BWW Review: Dreaming the Reality of Life in Yukich's APES AT PLAY
We often wonder how much of our life is scripted, nestled in the confines of fate, and how much of it is simply happenstance. It is sometimes comforting to know that certain things will happen to us if they are destined to be - that not all of the power is in our grasp, and the inexplicable can happen without making it so. Not all of life can be explained, and what better premise on which to create a play - a play that transcends what we understand reason to be, but is still rooted deep enough in reality to be believed. The idea of the absurd takes our truths and twists them to make us almost uncomfortable in a world that cannot be completely understood; this is what playwright Jonathan Yukich does in Apes at Play. Through the story of an assassin who must kill with only the slightest provocation to do so, the audience is treated to the wacky experience of a person's life turned upside down...and compelled to question what it all means.
Written and directed by Yukich and presented as part of the Dream Up Festival at Theater for the New City, Apes at Play is a short but ironically succinct piece that gets to the core of what it means to live within the possibility of the inexplicable. It tells the story of Flynn, an assassin who meets an old woman on the Staten Island ferry and is given a rather haphazard assignment: kill an author turned playwright who plans to start a movement towards a universal time zone. As Flynn has little choice but to accept (her cat's life is at stake), she takes the assignment and begins her quest for a mysterious safety deposit box. Once she discovers that the box has been stolen by a clown who enjoys the spotlight, she is thrown into an even larger enigma. Not only does she continue to ponder the point of her assignment, but a trip to the bookstore reveals that she is a doppelganger to the author she is planning to kill. Is this absurdity planned or simply entertaining? What, exactly, is going on?
I truly enjoy plays like this, where the audience is not simply present to be entertained, but to think - to follow our natural inquisitiveness and seek an explanation for things that perhaps do not have one at all. We are willing to accept the possibility of thieving clowns and exploding fathers, of an important rendezvous on the Staten Island ferry and the reoccurring appearance of a painting of two apes playing chess. We can sort of understand why Flynn would poison a girl she only just met, or why a book about a pigeon's romance would be considered the greatest novel of its time. Yet, what happens if we were told to accept these things without a significance that ties all of the inexplicable together? Fortunately, the audience is given a culminating reason behind all of this (at least the why but not necessarily the how), but this sort of constructed randomness really makes a person question what kind of force is out there that brings such things to happen, and what we are willing enough to accept; with that also comes the thought of whether that force is within our favor.
Apes at Play, so appropriately titled, for me conjures up thoughts of the infamous Beckett: thoughtfully uncomfortable moments that make a person feel trapped by their circumstances. Yet, unlike characters that accept their situations without question, Flynn's already dysfunctional life allows her to take and mentally digest odd occurrences while also being inquisitive towards and unsettled by that which doesn't yet have a reason. When she discovers that she looks exactly like the person she is trying to kill, this piques the interest in a way that lies beyond the random or simple coincidence; the uncanny definitely captures an audience's attention like nothing else.
With moments of foreshadow and an end that explains what the audience has been dying to know, Yukich then finishes the plot while leaving residual thoughts of how this relates to our own lives. I love overthinking about why things happen and how they come about, and although what happens in this show is mostly farfetched, the overall concept of it really compels the audience to think about our own lives. How much of what we live is unexpected, and how much is guided by a force we have very little ability to explain? I truly enjoyed this wacky, smooth and uncomfortable rendition of a thought we all must have at some point in our lives: what does it all mean?
Apes at Play requires little set or special effects, and truly relies on great acting, an intriguing plot and just a touch of inquisitiveness to laugh at and mimic life all at the same time; it was an undoubtedly good time and a show I am happy to have seen. Kudos to a great cast which included Damianis Eusebio, Josh Dill, Zach Fontanez, Erica Quaedvlieg, Amanda Cohen, Michael Kennedy and Josh Lodge.
Apes at Play, as part of the 2018 Dream Up Festival, opened on August 26th at Theater for the New City and concluded performances on September 3rd. Jonathan Yukich wrote and directed to add to the 200 full productions his plays have each year all over the world. Please visit www.theaterforthenewcity.net to learn more about upcoming productions.
Photo Credit: Leakana Ly