Craven Monkey and the Mountain of Fury
nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
December 11, 2009
If epic animal battles, extensive monkey humping, and overall extreme silliness are what you've been craving, then head over to the Brick Theatre for Craven Monkey and the Mountain of Fury as a part of the first annual Fight Fest.
The playfulness on the part of the team of monkey/creature-actors makes this show all the more fun. Our hero, the Craven Monkey, is played by Adrian Jevicki with an irresistible dumb sincerity and awkward confusion. Never underplaying, all the actors bring the kind of dedicated characterization necessary to make these characters genuinely comedic, as opposed to merely "acting funny." There is some lengthy, physically rigorous fighting (not to mention, again, the humping). Consistently, the synchronicity between the fighting and music (often video-game like choices, that are continuously amusing, by director Jeff Lewonczyk) makes the action all the more engaging. Fight directors Qui Nguyen and Adam Swiderski have some excellent sequences going on here.
A fight highlight is Becky Byers as a little green critter, accompanied by assistants in black who allow her to float and fly about. A graceful fighter/dancer, she enters moving backwards and upside down, and proceeds to rotate and roll acrobatically. Her agility, speed, and clarity make this my favorite fight in the show. Her comfort moving on stage gives her the lack of hesitancy necessary to move quickly and directly, providing a complex and engaged battle!
Another awesome battle occurs when Mateo Moreno enters on stilts with huge tentacles manned by different actors. The repetition of a slow entrance—with accompanying music—by Fred Backus as the Earth minion, shaggy-horned and in orange rags, is especially hilarious.
Crotch-bulge-emphasizing adornments provided by costume designer Julianne Kroboth add to the dynamism of the bent-over women's bouncing booties for the times of monkey love. Also, the National Geographic-reminiscent melodically repetitious narration read by Lewonczyk provides important access to the characters' thoughts and intentions, as well as a throughline in a play with characters that don't speak themselves.
So, what is this play really about? Craven Monkey is exiled for his innovation, for changing the given way of things. But the burden he bears for his sense of progress is a profound responsibility. He starts out on a journey to take revenge on those who made him outcast, but turns to an affirmation of forging the new way; overcoming innumerable obstacles without looking spitefully at the past. This monkey's journey to overcome the power of nature and become man emphasizes the idiocy of this endeavor. All that really distinguishes us from our ancestors, after a lot of battling, is variety in our sexual positions, and that we stand a little more upright. This attack on the seriousness of mankind's view of its own progress is a useful one in the context of the Copenhagen talks on climate change, and the widespread assumption that man is somehow above nature. If anything, we're nature's bitch most of the time. To think development has no cost is the true foolishness. The burden of progress is greater responsibility. We're all in this together. However comical other creatures' lives seem to us, our lives are really just as ridiculous. We just have iPhones, while they have fleas.
I devoutly believe in the profundity of silliness. It's one of my favorite of the virtues. Maybe we can see a little of ourselves in this story of a simple monkey humping and battling his way through this crazy world.