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Kong's Night Out in World Premiere at Lyric Stage Company

Kong's Night Out

Written by Jack Neary

Directed by Spiro Veloudos

Scenic Design, Robert M. Russo

Costume Design, Gail Astrid Buckley

Lighting Design, Scott Clyve

Action and Fight Choreography, Clifford M. Allen


Larry Coen as Myron Siegel, Ellen Colton as Sally Charmaine, Lordan Napoli as Daisy, Steve Gagliastro as Little Willie, Rachel Harker as Bertrille Siegel, M.J.J. Cashman as Sig Higginbottom, Sarah Abrams as Ann Darrow, Timothy Smith as Carl Denham, Christopher Loftus as Jack Driscoll

Performances thru June 3 at the Lyric Stage Company   Box office 617-585-5678

Webster's defines farce as "an exaggerated comedy based on broadly humorous situations; an absurd or ridiculous action," but I could add a third definition: a spanking new play by Jack Neary. The world premiere of Kong's Night Out at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston has all of the requisite door slamming, pie-in-the-face, double-crossing, and physical comedy we expect, as well as world-class performances and direction. Along with its technical attributes, it is the total package.

Producing Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos, who also directed this play, has chosen to conclude the Lyric's stellar season with the first offering from the new Growing Voices program. Its mission is to develop and produce new plays by Boston playwrights and is spearheaded by Producing Associate Rebecca Low. Neary approached Veloudos with the idea for Kong while directing Lend Me a Tenor at the Lyric in May, 2002. Assisted by Low, they have worked together on the script for the past year and a half to bring the play to the stage.

The stage itself is a key component as both the scenic design of Robert M. Russo and the costume design of Gail Astrid Buckley evoke the feeling of the 1930's in all of its Art Deco splendor (the story is set in a midtown Manhattan hotel suite in October, 1933). The New York City skyline rises in silhouette above a wall centered by double glass doors leading to a balcony, flanked by four deco-style doors to interior (unseen) rooms. Upstage is a bar with two stylish stools and a wine-hued velvet loveseat, while a half-moon black lacquer desk draws our attention downstage. The old-fashioned dial telephone on the desk is a much-used prop.

The story begins as impresario Myron Siegel is about to open his new Broadway show Foxy Felicia, but he learns that his patrons are returning their tickets in droves in order to attend the attraction being offered by his archenemy Carl Denham. The rivalry between the two showmen can be traced back to the time when Siegel's mother rejected the affections of Denham's father. He was a famous producer and unaccustomed to rejection, especially by a fan dancer such as Sally Charmaine, but her heart belonged to Myron's father. This set off a chain of events of revenge and the younger Denham carried on the fight, sabotaging every show that Myron mounted.

Myron's challenge is to find out the nature of Denham's "attraction" so that he may get the upper hand in the sabotage game. He employs his henchman Little Willie; his niece Daisy who is visiting from Buffalo in the hope of getting into show business; his mother, and his not-so-trustworthy wife to get the skinny on Denham's surprise. They learn that it is a monkey and plot to steal it to put it in Siegel's show, but the plans get bigger and more out of control in direct proportion to the ever increasing size of the simian. Bertrille is fooling around with Denham and gets caught by Daisy. Denham spews a lot of tough guy lines and says things like, "You want to look at my monkey, you buy a ticket like everybody else." He talks in cliches, but he pulls it off because it seems right for the character and the era.

A battle of wits ensues as Siegel shamelessly kidnaps Ann Darrow (the beauty that attracted the beast), manipulates her fiancé Jack Driscoll, and dissembles in the presence of his major backer Sig Higginbottom at every turn. Meanwhile, Denham and Bertrille are trying to hide important information from Myron in order to dupe him and protect their own interests. As in any good farce, it is sometimes a little hard to follow who is coming and who is going in and out of which doors and why, but it makes the ride fast, furious, and fun.

All of the players exhibit marvelous comic timing and, although the play was still in previews when I saw it, everything was seamless. Act Two opens with a raucous fight among Daisy, Sally, Bertrille, and Little Willie that is choreographed beautifully by Clifford M. Allen. The creative team has been making changes right up until curtain, but this group of actors has responded like the professionals they are. According to Neary, their involvement in the process has been great.

The playwright considers Kong's Night Out to be an homage to the 1933 film and he has tried to be faithful to the original story. He wanted to know what might have happened in the hotel room next to the room where Fay Wray gets taken away by the ape. He chose the vehicle of a screwball comedy, typical of the 1930's, to play with that idea. The madcap antics and frenzied activity keep the audience atwitter, but the writing could be tightened up to reduce the groan factor, especially with much of the dialogue between Little Willie and just about any of the other characters. Steve Gagliastro offers a believable portrayal of a "dese, dems, and dose" kinda guy who is trying to become erudite by using big words, but the henchman is mostly one-dimensional.

Lordan Napoli's Daisy drew my attention every time she came onstage. She was fresh-faced, lively, and even a little over the top, but that meshed well with the fast pace of the farce. Rachel Harker does a nice turn as the narcissistic femme fatale and Sarah Abrams does more than might be expected of her as the Beauty of Beauty and the Beast. My biggest rave goes to Ellen Colton who seemed to channel a younger Thelma Ritter in her role as Sally Charmaine. Her body language (a slouch with attitude), wry face, and sardonic tone combined to create a striking resemblance to the second banana of many old black and whites. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself!)

The strong cast and design team are the highlights of this production. The script problems notwithstanding, with its Growing Voices program the Lyric Stage Company has taken one small step for Boston's playwriting community and a giant leap for American theatre.






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