The Monkey Room's monkey business is familiar, inkBoat struck a c(H)ord
The head of a team of HIV researchers (Lauren Grace) tries to safeguard what may be a breakthrough a concoction they have been testing on monkeys seems, albeit mysteriously, to inhibit transmission of the virus in The Monkey Room. Meanwhile, a fallen fellow researcher turned funding hatchet man (a slickly imposing Robert Parsons) acts as proverbial wolf at the door. Time and money are running out; desperate measures must be taken.
Unfortunately, despite sharp performances by director Mark Routhier's cast (which includes Jessica Kitchens and Kevin Rolston), the nature and impact of these measures seem artificially flavored in Magic Theater's world premiere of The Monkey Room. This is a little surprising, given that Monkey Room playwright Kevin Fisher's background in epidemiology and HIV diagnosis research make him something of an insider. If Fisher's laboratory drama doesn't go very far, it has less to do with the play's familiarity with the subject including, one assumes, the sexual and bureaucratic politics of the lab, which here get respectively physical and fiscal. In its lightly comic mode, the play credibly suggests how such politics (especially the latter) push the pace of research, often unreasonably and recklessly. But this is no great revelation.
The opening notes of inkBoat's c(H)ord were struck forcefully by a tall man with a shorn head and a microphone (Sten Rudstrøm): "Every picture requires a frame," he intoned, pointing to the stage. "Tonight, this is your frame. But I'm not here to explain things," he continued. "This is a warning. At one time this place was ruled by dinosaurs. Now all we have is birds. Get out. Get out while you still have a chance."
Of course, it's a little late for that. But the sense of life's transitory, muddled magic was distilled so wonderfully here that for a time we glimpsed an aboriginal point of entry: when the first humans were a loose-knit tribe of sensuous, wondering wanderers arriving from nowhere.
In this ambitious new work, which enjoyed its world premiere April 24-26 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a low wooden mound bathed in ochre light functioned as a perch and refuge to these wanderers, an appropriately international cast of excellent modern dancers. The costumes shared a uniform tone while suggesting a mishmash of cultures and periods, a feeling underscored by the polyglot dialogue that came in snatches, whispers, wails, shrieks, and songs alternately delicate and boisterous. The dynamic vocabulary of movement on display, the pantomime, the raucous drum line, the insubstantial yet gracefully human shadows against the wall, the outbursts of absurdist humor and surrealist provocation, the sudden solo flights and incandescent duets all of these added up to a deft, often exhilarating continuation of inkBoat founder and choreographer Shinichi Iova-Koga's hybrid, internationally collaborative explorations over the past decade.
Wed/30Sat/3, 8 p.m.; Sun/4, 2:30 and 7 p.m., $20$45
Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D, Marina and Buchanan, SF
(415) 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org