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Review: PRIMATING at Arkansas Repertory Theatre takes us to the jungle at the Little Rock Zoo

World premiere play by Jennifer Vanderbes

Review: PRIMATING at Arkansas Repertory Theatre takes us to the jungle at the Little Rock Zoo

Nature versus nurture. This idea is debated throughout the world premiere of PRIMATING, written by Jennifer Vanderbes, and presented by The Arkansas Repertory Theatre August 10-29. Located deep in the sweltering, humid jungles of Africa, eh, the Little Rock Zoo, the story begins with Primatologist Desmond Hawkes (Douglas Rees) being interviewed for Time magazine by the lovely reporter Jenna Barash (Thea Foundation recipient Talley Gale). Then, past lover Eve Goodwin (Kate Goehring) shows up after 25 years to shake things up.

When not discussing their past life together, the trio is focused on an Alpha-male chimp, who is taking care of an abandoned, unrelated baby chimp. Nature says the alpha should kill the baby, but that is not the case. He is very nurturing to the baby, which throws a kink into ego-centric Desmond's theories of primal urges. However, his theory doesn't just apply to chimps. He compares animal instincts to the sexual relationships of humans and how they are the only species who practice monogamy. The women, particularly Eve, leans on the nurture side of science to explain that things just happen between individuals, be it chimps or humans.

At the end of Act I, hunky Dana DeForest (Little Rock's Joseph Scott Ford), who Desmond thought was a woman, shows up to be Desmond's assistant. Plot twist, he is the couple's son. Though Dana is a capable, budding primatologist in his own right, his ulterior motive was to get his parents together one last time, due to his mother's fatal diagnosis.

This is a very smart, witty play, with a girl-power theme. It was well worth dealing with the heat to make us feel like we were part of their world. I'm sure Director Ari Edelson had no problem guiding this very talented cast. These professionals brought the story to the next level, and I loved being so (socially-distanced) close to the drama.

Douglas Rees was the perfect alpha male, with his grandeur stature and booming voice. His witty timing was excellent, and I loved his chimpanzee impersonation. Extra kudos to Sound Designer Michael Heavner for making it sound like Rees' impression roused the lady chimps. I really thought it was real for a moment.

I do confess that I was a little star struck by petite Kate Goehring. She has an impressive resume of stage/screen/tv/film. The moment she stepped out on stage, she had this powerful energy emitting off of her. You knew she meant business! She didn't even have to speak for the audience to know what she was thinking. Her internal struggles with Desmond were obvious just through her facial expressions and demeanor.Review: PRIMATING at Arkansas Repertory Theatre takes us to the jungle at the Little Rock Zoo

Talley Gale was endearing as a strong, independent woman looking to find humanity in an ugly world. I was rooting for her character as she dared to bring a baby into the world by herself and through a sperm donor.

Joseph Ford's portrayal of the sexy "alpha-male feminist" brought extra smiles, both in a comedic way and otherwise. The chemistry between Gale's character and him were obviously there.

The Rep never fails to deliver on top-tier shows. Coming up in December, The Rep will be putting on A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, followed by DESIGNING WOMEN in January, SCHOOL GIRLS; OR, THE AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS PLAY in March, and INTO THE WOODS in April. Check out their website at therep.org for ticket information.

For more information on other works by Vanderbes, you can check out her website at www.jennifervanderbes.com.


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