Followers of my blog probably realize I see nearly everything produced by Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group. I'm proud to say several folks associated with this theatre call me friend.
But I try my best to be objective. This show, Year of the Monkey, however comes across as something deeply personal--a kind of theatrical Happy New Year card from ZJU to their audience. (For the record, Chinese astrology recognizes not only the 12 totems of the years, but also their association with five chinese elements--earth, air, fire, water and wood. 2016 is the year of the Fire Monkey). It comes across as another example of what I call "theatre of dreams" at which ZJU tends to excel. There is something resembling a plot--the triumph of the monkeys over the tyranny of the passing Dragon (2015 was year of the dragon). But in the hour-long show the cast of monkeys really take us on a journey/quest exploring what monkeys are, what monkeys do, what monkeys want.
So with music and dance, song and pantomime, the monkey tribe celebrates itself and seeks to over come the Dragon. They lack the raw power, the ferocity of their adversary--whom the cast becomes as they do everything else in the show. But they try--and fail. Then try again, to fail again.
But the cycle declares that eventually they will find a way--a way for monkeys to win (and therein lies the secret of their success--trying to be a dragon cannot help but fail, after all).
If this sounds weird, you're not wrong. But make no mistake, the show is also very fun indeed. Not just fun but at times tragic, moving, always startling and yet quietly logical according the logic of dreams. Heroes die, devoured by a monster, only to be resurrected to help fight again. Terror gives way to comfort, ritual to courage, experience to insight and wisdom. From thence, comes victory.
For a time.
Kudos to the entire ensemble, including several ZJU regulars: Jennifer Ashe, Jeannie Hudak, Gerald McGrory, Olivia M Powell, Dale Sandlin, Elif Savas, Anastasia Serada, Adam Shows, Kevin Van Cott and Roger D. Weiss. Their performances hint they had a blast putting this show together--and it shows, even overflowing into the audience.
Year of the Monkey plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30pm until February 27, 2016 at ZJU 4850 Lankershim Blvd (just south of the NoHo sign) North Hollywood CA 91601. You can get reservations by calling (818) 202-4120.