BWW Review: MONKEY TROUBLE: UNLEASHED! at The Duplex
It may be impossible not to enjoy Joel B. New's interesting "violent musical comedy." Why? Because it has an incredibly simple plot, premise, and it keeps you laughing from moment one when Amy Jo Jackson ("Aunt" Bart) bursts out at a Super Walmart employee that she wants to return chewed, chewing gum, because "it didn't blow into a bubble." Despite the fact that returning chewed gum is insane or because of it, this play starts off on a good foot, and it only gets so much more chaotic and hilarious from there. Described as a mash up of two "critically obscure" movies, 1994's Monkey Trouble and 2005's Unleashed!, the musical quickly becomes a gay love story that simply is. In fact, there's very little existential angst or perplexity to it, even though one of the characters caught in this love tryst is a human, named Danny, that thinks he is a Capuchin monkey, named Danny (acted well by Andrew Cristi). The other? Is a blind man, named Sam (acted by Ernie Pruneda), who recently got out of a relationship with Louise, a man who's name just happens to be mispronounced by an overbearing, but understanding land lady, Mrs. Subplotnik (only to give the audience a chance to second guess whether Sam really knows what's going on with Danny.)
The whole of the musical is playful in that and other ways using puns, rhymes, clever lines, and rehashed melodies to create a musical that no one really asked for, but I happen to think could be a must-see if (and when!) it appears off-Broadway soon. From the opening number, "Monkey See, Monkey Kill" to the interrogative numbers toward the end of Act 1 where characters re-examine their situations such as "Dance Monkey Dance" or "What Could Possibly Go Wrong" or "Don't Make a Monkey Out of Me," there is a refreshing sense of originality and fun dance energy to this show. Oh, and it lives up to its billing as both a comedy and violent.
Danny, the monkey, starts off as "Aunt" Bart's murderous lackey, who kills even trained assassins easily on command. However, in a freak abandoned piano factory fire, Danny is forced to save the piano playing (and fixing) blind man, Sam, instead of helping Aunt Bart and her daughter/other lackey, Fingers (played exceptionally well by Leigh Ellen Caudill), to escape. They seemingly perish only to reappear later after Sam has tapped into Danny's sensitive side. While Sam helps Danny to realize that he doesn't need to be a violent, killer monkey when the leash comes off ("Unleashed"), Aunt Bart wakes from a coma with Fingers watching over her. For that and other reasons, it's clearly not going to be so simple for Danny and Sam, because sometimes Danny goes off such as when he maniacally tears off everyone's heads at the local GAP like a silent, monkey hulk. So, when Aunt Bart reappears, it's easy for her to convince Danny to abandon Sam for Sam's safety.
Unfortunately for Sam, he doesn't give up and Danny is forced to save the day the only way he knows how, that is unless he can stop the killer instinct. This is a fun musical full of laughs and good vibes. It helped that the quintet of actors, Leigh Ellen Caudill (my fave), Andrew Cristi, Amy Jo Jackson, Ernie Pruneda, and Charles Sanchez made this believable. Sanchez, as Mrs. Subplotnik, had a way of making political love affair jokes as if you'd never heard them before, earning appreciative groans and chuckles, and Amy Jo Jackson was as forceful an Aunt Bart, as ever could be asked for, as she attempted to bend Danny to her will.
The band that accompanied the team included pianist (and musical director) Gillian Berkowitz, bassist, Wes Bourland, and percussion specialist, James Pingenot. A few other people had their hands in making the work happen including director Charlie Johnson and assistant director Ashlei Hazell. For more detail on the show and the creative team, please visit Joel B. New's website: link. Hopefully, you'll discover why "Dance Money Dance, no one gets a redo," and "Put the collar on, he'll play real nice/take the collar off, you'll pay the price/Monkey see, monkey kill," are memorably melodic.