BWW Review: 909, The Monkey House
Reverend Jim Jones and his disciples made the headlines in 1978 when he ordered his congregation to ingest a drink laced with cyanide, leading to what was considered the greatest loss of civilian life in a deliberate act before the 11th of September 2001.
This was the peak of the curious but worrisome venture of the Peoples Temple, an American religious movement that regarded Jones as the representative of God on Earth. Abi Smith writes a nimble play that tackles brainwashing and trust, introducing the toxic elements of a community born out of sheer egotism. The noble ideals preached by the holy man are soon surrounded by mesh net and his controlling side becomes evident.
Benedict Esdale is the charismatic and abusive preacher. Sunglasses and gun concealed in his jeans, his presence is exhorting and exacting on the rest of the company. He leads the young cast with expertise to deliver a thought-provoking version of the events. Director Tamara Tooher present the piece on a traverse square stage with a wooden and rural vibe accompanied by evocative lighting and sound.
The performers welcome the audience into the Temple as they enter the auditorium, making them both the accessories to the murder/suicide and the stunned onlookers. News anchors invade the scene at intervals to report on the shocking happenings of the clan, turning it into a pre-social media media frenzy.
The play starts building perceivable tension fairly late with its climax ending the action with Jones's horrific final speech. As a whole, 909 is an accomplished piece of theatre that showcases a wide range of new actors coming from Fourth Monkey, with the faltering accents being only a forgettable nuance of the show.