I am not a chimpanzee
nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
July 15, 2007
The events depicted in Michael Stockman's i am not a chimpanzee, take place in the kitchen of Sam and Margaret Waxman's Park Avenue apartment exactly one year after the towers fell on September 11, 2001. Since that day, Sam and Margaret have developed a couple of curious coping mechanisms. Sam, once a successful lawyer, now spends the bulk of his days wearing pimp-daddy track suits and snorting cocaine under the kitchen table. He hasn't showered for close to six months and peppers his conversations with petty insults. Margaret, receiver of these nasty barbs, spends most of her days caring for Captain Noodles, Mallabee, and Dr. 10-Cents, the residents of the chimpanzee sanctuary in the Bronx Zoo where she volunteers. Margaret is so lonely at times she admits to slipping into the sleeping bag of one of her chimp charges. These mechanisms create a great divide between the couple and their individual relationships to reality.
Sam's solution to this problem, concocted with equal parts rage and frustration, is to hire a Jamaican prostitute named Ayla into their home in hopes of refocusing his wife's attentions from the chimps to himself. Ayla, costumed in a bright yellow tank top and incredibly short shorts, arrives with her own set of issues: this is her last job before taking off to Jamaica to get a handle on her own life. Her arrival on the scene provides a burst of sunshine into an otherwise gloomy environment—the three sniff enough cocaine to kill at least a dozen buffalo—and the play turns into a battle of wills which forces the happy couple to recognize the toll their loss has extracted.
Ayla is the spirit this couple and this show needs. She is voluptuous, sure, and her figure alone is enough to destroy a thousand marriages. But her unfettered joy acts as the perfect foil for the grief and neuroses that has consumed Sam and Margaret since the death of their son. Ayla gets Sam to shower by withholding sex from him; she gets the seemingly straight-laced Margaret sniffing cocaine like an uptight, suburban Tony Montana. But her greatest feat is opening the floodgates of their despair and forcing them to recognize the existence of the other. When this finally happens, the character's vulnerabilities are on full display. "Who died?" Margaret asks. "We did." Sam replies. In that moment I glimpsed the fabric torn by their loss.
I wanted to like i am not a chimpanzee more than I did. Stockman's script is full of intelligence but it felt as though director Douglas S. Hall focused more on its quirks than the humanity inherent in its comedy. This may be due to the fact that the characters spend as much time talking to the audience as they do each other, but the pacing, at times manic, glosses over the motors underneath their actions, which made the journey to its climax less immediate than it might have been. To its credit though, the audience laughed frequently and never lost interest, a testament to the skillful exploration of its themes.