Not your grandma’s King Kong


By Blake Cass
Directed by Adam Brilliant
Brilliant Productions/the Midtown International Theatre Festival
WorkShop Theatre Co./Jewel Box Theatre
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Deborah S. Greenhut

First things first. The eponymous albino gorilla that inspired Copito was known as "Copito de Nieve," or "Little Snowflake." Captured in Africa in 1966 as a young gorilla, Copito lived most of his 40 years in the Barcelona Zoo, where he was euthanized in 2003 to mitigate the effects of irreversible skin cancer. Something of a cult hero in his own right, Copito inspired curious reflection in all who viewed him, and in this, Blake Cass’s play records something of both history and the Zeitgeist. When Copito died, thousands of children sent drawings in his memory, and the Barcelona Zoo admitted children for free for a day. Like his darker movieland cousin, he left his mark on a culture.

As to Copito, the play by Blake Cass, the issues of caged beauty -- represented by the twinned "Copito" and "Julia," who were played with sensitivity by Kara Peters; freakish indifference, perhaps represented best by the ambivalent husband-father, Michael (Jefferson C. Post); and alienation, represented in the experiences of the abandoned children, Mickey, a challenging role undertaken by Jefferson C. Post, in which the child became father to the man and Johnny (Owen Cooney), who became also the stage-manager-like zookeeper, offering a ground-zero reading on the food chain; and, last, the unrelated little girl, Sally (Kristin Knapp), who, until her appearance near the end, was known as the pregnant wife of the straying Michael. For all these interrelationships, nothing new was learned; things remained the same and merely cycled. Rumination taught the "inner children" very little about facing the disappointments of adulthood. Copito had a longer life in captivity than he might have achieved in the wild, but life in a cage was -- well, life in a cage, replete with stares and questions from free creatures of another, often ignorant, species. The play also represented a very white world, unbothered by its absence of differences. The contrast with King Kong hovered unmistakably around the edges of the play. While tempting mirrors of race were nascent in the story, these were not tapped by the play. Costumes were unremarkable -- beige-toned street clothes for all but Copito/Julia, who wore white clothing. Lighting (Ryan Metzler) did help to distinguish states of mind and character shifts.

An ad from PETA on the back of the program read, in part, "Animal ... a living being capable of feeling." But there was no range of feelings in Copito. Director Adam Brilliant did an effective job of aiding the four young actors to deliver the emotions they were asked to work with for the eight characters they play. They juggled sometimes farce-like, rapid transitions to render the split-screen perceptions of the viewer and the viewed -- the caged and the uncaged. The cage, finally, surrounded everyone, and therein lies the problem in the script. The drama of caging seems to have occurred before the play begins. What remains is helpless hand-wringing about the relentless march toward death. Even Michael, who leaves his family, including a pregnant wife, for the happiness he fantasizes with the beautiful Julia, cannot escape the traps offered by relationships in this lifetime.

Copito the play is an assembly of good intentions -- the earnest, hard-working young actors; a good director; an intriguing idea for a script -- but ultimately it lacks a dramatic premise. Billed as "An interspecies rumination," the script never leaves that philosophical territory to become a play with a beginning, middle, or endpoint, apart from the white gorilla’s actual death. Why the characters compose their fictions is never explained. As one character observes about halfway through: "The only difference between you and an ape [is that while] you both have stories, you can tell it." If only.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 0
Lighting/Sound: 1

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