mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli
mordicai

  • Mood:
  • Music:

The Monkey King!



Last night I went to go see Monkey: Journey to the West with Jennifer. It has been pretty thoroughly advertised in the city, but in case you don't know what it is-- it is basically Chinese opera & acrobatics, filtered through The Gorillaz. Chen Shi-Zheng directed it & Damon Albarn & Jamie Hewlett did the composing & visual concept work; the three of them really created a pretty great pitch. Maybe you know the story of the Monkey King, Sun Wukong, who hatched from a stone struck by lighting & immediately declares himself blasphemously to be the Great Sage Equal to Heaven. It is an intensely Chinese story while at the same time being an intensely archetypal story; it is a story of the clash between Buddhism & Taoism & temporal politics, as well as a story of a mythic trickster...who learns a certain kind of enlightenment along the way. Relatedly, this is why when Gene Luen Yang Christianized the story in American Born Chinese I sort of struggled with it. On one hand, the fact that it is a very adaptable story makes me want to consider adaptation to be a good thing; on the other, it is an intensely Buddhist (& Daoist in trappings, but mostly Buddhist in message) story & making it Christian sort of feels like missing the point.

As for the production itself, it is a lot of fun. The first half is much more "Gorillaz-y" & the second half is much more "Chinese Opera-y" but the best parts of it, by far, where when those overlapped...which was quite frequently. I liked it a lot. We had "nose bleed" seats pretty high up, so let me get that out of the way first. Being up high meant I didn't get to see the costume design as much as I would have liked, but part of the point of opera & acrobatics is to telegraph your performance, right? The action on stage was pretty intelligible, especially the Monkey King's antics & the acrobats. There was some action high up on the stage that the angle cut off, but thems the breaks. When we saw Uncle Vanya up in the tippy-top of the audience, it was a pain in the neck-- literally!-- but here because so much of it is song & dance & contortion, it wasn't as big of a hurdle. Seriously though, maybe I should get opera glasses, some classy binoculars.

The star of the show-- obviously-- is the actor who plays Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. His acting is...predominantly primate pantomime? A lot of monkey-like chirps & hisses, scratching & stomping. Very fun; I started cracking up from the first moment he was on stage. My favorite parts of him were his entrance-- I just think it is hilarious that the Monkey King hatches from a stone & then is like, "I'm cooler than Jesus & Buddha! Oh no, I need to be immortal!" like, first thing. Cracks me up. That, & I really liked his "rap battle" with Princess Iron Fan. Oh, & I really like that after the boy-monk Tripitaka exiles him from the adventuring party-- what, you don't see a high level cleric, a goblin warrior, a pig-man & the Monkey King as a Dungeons & Dragons group? I did!-- he goes off into a side stage & sulks & smokes cigarettes. When the goblin Sandy comes to get him, they break the scene by speaking in English...& the monster chides him for smoking. Apart from that I would say that over-all my favorite scene, & side character, is White Skeleton Demon. Her glow-in-the-dark costume & lilting paean to cannibalism was spooky & wondrous. Me, I liked the first half the best, when Monkey King is mostly just a real jerk & there are plenty of animated interludes; Jenny liked the latter half better. I have to admit...I'd slept poorly all week & woke up at five in the morning, so as things slowed down & the amphitheater heated up, I had to pinch my skin a couple times. Not flattering but I should be honest about what might be biasing me.

Tags: opera, plays, vine
Subscribe
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 5 comments