When I was around ten years old I wrote a play based on the epic, Gone With The Wind. There were just 2 actors in my play, myself and my 8 year old friend. We bypassed a lot of the Civil War story line – and even dismissed the romantic plot. Instead we focused on the food. The lack of food. The search for food. How hungry we were. Which of course is a tipping point in GWTW but certainly doesn’t have the monumental payout as other plot points like, you know, the actual war. I played Scarlet, my friend played Mammy, and we read our lines in Brooklyn-tinged southern accents as we waved paper fans we’d gotten in Chinatown to simulate staving off the vapors.
My point? For decades (and at will) we could quote that awful play, still drawl “What’ll we dooooo?” as we waved our hands in front of our faces. Unquestionably the memory brought as much joy as the actual play-acting did all those years ago. I invite you to reach back into your own memory – I’m sure you have a similar reenactment at the ready, be it a diluted amalgam of the Star Wars franchise or that one scene from Indiana Jones that no backyard theatre play was complete without. Feel the smile growing on your face? That warm glow spreading through you? Well, that means you’re starting to understand the genius that is Broom Street Theater’s Boogie of the Apes currently running as part of the 2014 Frigid New York Festival.
Director Rob Matsushita has a knack for understanding how to create a compelling piece of theatre which incorporates pre-existing material provided by Power Records, while still effectively saturating it with layers of inventiveness that are at once homage and satire of the source material.
And what source material there is! For while Power Records in and of itself is malignable for the way in which it distills the Planet of the Apes franchise, Matsushita (who not only adapted the material but also wrote the wry commentary which bridges one story to another) also pokes fun at a franchise which made itself finite by the end of its first film, as well as its second, yet still managed to pump out more films. Or, as narrator Jessica Jane Witham tells it “Planet of the Apes was a movie with a pretty clear end point, yet it spawned a crap load of sequels.”
Witham – who turns cool and smooth after sharing a spirited and enthusiastic opening number (choreographed by Katie Ramos) with her fellow cast members - swaggers through scenes to deliver some exposition before leaning off to the side smirking through a haze of cigarette smoke. She is so energetic, so inviting, so enjoyable to watch that boatloads of praise need to be heaped upon her – for while this entire show is one great exciting fun present she is the instruction manual that helps you put it together so that you can enjoy the damn thing. And we all know that no matter how much you wanted that toy – if you can’t put it together to play with it, it’s kinda not as good.
One by one, the Apes movies are acted out using little more than the types of props kids have been using in endless rec rooms across America since … forever. This homespun aspect is what makes Boogie so enjoyable, and the way in which each actor (notably Kathy Lynn Sliter, Anthony Cary and Dan Myers) relates with their ape nose, their toy gun or their fake mustache is where the enchantment has room to bubble up.
Witham consistently points out – in between narration and reduction – that these records just race from plot point to plot point with no thought to characterization. But this straight-man narration affords the actors a means to live within their play while simultaneously existing outside of it.
The set up is both deceptively simple and brilliant. Rivaling Milli Vanilli, this cast is so good at lip syncing that it’s often easy to forget that the so-bad it’s good (or actually – sometimes it’s just bad) dialogue was pressed onto vinyl upwards of 40 years ago. Instead, you’ll just lose yourself in the kitchy goodness of these corny retellings. Don’t fret, however – if you like your dialogue delivered live and not via the magic that is the 45rpm rest assured these actors (unlike Milli Vanilli) prove how well they can act, cavort and emote on their own without the help of Power Records. The last movie in their account (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) is 100% Broom Street Theater ensemble and gives each actor an opportunity to drench all that camp with their own flavor.
Overall, Rob Matsushita’s direction is not only clever but kind. Yes, kind. Of course the Power Records are maligned and parodied. But they’re also lovingly elevated to a richer, more playful, and far more complex piece of theatre in exactly the way it was meant to be done.
You see, the theatre of childhood which mimics pre-existing canon doesn’t HAVE to be good. It doesn’t even have to be logical, or focus on the narrative which the original focused on. It merely has to be something you can lose yourself in as you grab props from around the house and dive headfirst into your richly textured world where (in the case of my Gone With The Wind world) a cheaply made paper Chinese fan becomes more antebellum and less Asian and your search for food is more important than the Civil War.
So grab hold of those memories of your childhood, leave your love for anything Planet of the Apes at the door – because that’s not what this play is about. This play is about fun. This play is about play. And this play will have you rifling through your old boxes for bits of memorabilia when you get home to keep that childhood feeling going – if only for a little while longer.
Boogie of the Apes
Company: Broom Street Theater
Directed by:Rob Matsushita
Mar 03, 7:05PM
Click HERE for tickets
Running time: 1 h 0 min
Seating: General Admission
The Kraine Theater
85 E. 4th Street
New York , New York 10003
2nd and 3rd Ave
Horse Trade Theater Group will present the 8th Annual FRIGID New York Festival at The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery) and UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Avenue and Avenue A) February 19-March 9. Tickets are available for purchase in advance at www.FRIGIDnewyork.info or by calling 212-868-4444.