The Monkey Moo
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 11, 2007
I count among my favorite theatre experiences those that combine oddball original music with uninhibited puppet play. The Monkey Moo does just that and does it with so much star-in-the-eye imagination that I wish I could be a puppet in this show. Or a thin white rope.
It's a story about a monkey (or is he a man?) that comes from a simple life to live in a big city. He's thrust into a corny showbiz act and discovers many new things including a young servant girl. But she is being abused by her master. He tries to help her but she keeps falling deeper and deeper into trouble. She even starts hittin' the pipe. Still he nobly fights for her until he finally does what has to be done.
That is a very basic synopsis of a show that is very rich, intricate and experimental—and done without a single word spoken. It starts off simple. The Monkey Moo is fishing, the puppeteers reveal that they have fish velcroed to the bottoms of their feet and they sit and intertwine their legs in a Dance of the Diving Dinner. In another one I call the Dance of the Thin White Rope the puppeteers create various geometric shapes with a rope that become dimensional doorways through which Moo can pass or peer. There are so many other moments like this such as a finely choreographed fork fight, but the one thing that really kicks it over the top is the band.
They're call Zelda Pinwheel—James Dellatacoma, Ralph Gould and Stephen Quaranta. They play far-out compu-acoustic space station café music. There's some elegant guitar riffs and a drum somewhere, but they drum on anything when necessary; one of them plays a Melodihorn (a hand held pianos with a blowpipe) and a third plays effects among other things. The latter seems to interface with some electronic instrument like he's tickling and teasing it. And they are so in tune and in perfect sync with performers.
Yoko Myoi is Moo. She moves in space so perfectly aware of her flowing limbs and sturdy torso. Myoi is playful and so very endearing. She and her director, Kanako Hiyama, have created a beautiful vision of an ugly world. Hiyama is skillful with her use of perspective and choreography. The puppeteers, Karen Elizaga and Andrei Drooz, are both so in harmony with their puppets and whatever they happen to pick up. They roll around on wheeled seats and animate their puppets in a style of puppetry called Kuruma-Ningyo. Tom Lee's puppet designs perfectly articulate the vision created by Myoi and Hiyama.
Ok, so maybe I'll never be a puppet in this show. But I know that if I were, I'd be treated really well and I'd get to hang out with some very creative people. This show is great music, great puppet play, and just how I like my fringe.