Monkeying around

It's Kong's Night Out at the Lyric
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  May 16, 2006


NOISES OFF?  More like judgment’s off

“Show me the monkey” is bound to be a demand of any audience confronted with an entertainment that riffs on King Kong. On that score, the screwball farce Kong’s Night Out, in its world premiere at Lyric Stage Company of Boston (through June 3), delivers handily. (That’s a pun.) But it takes the comedy a while to get there, much of it filled with plotting, panic, and slamming doors. Massachusetts playwright Jack Neary has been working on the script, more a homage to 1930s stage comedy than to the original King Kong, for five years, most recently in connection with the Lyric’s new-play development program, Growing Voices. In its debut, some of the work — which imagines the action in the hotel suite from which Fay Wray’s character is snatched the night Kong breaks his chains and follows his heart — is funny, and all of it is sillier than the Teletubbies on helium. The cast, however, is on speed — even when the farce flounces or flounders.

In Neary’s Kong-alogue, it’s opening night of a chorine-heavy 1933 Broadway entertainment called Foxy Felicia and produced by one Myron Siegel, who is distraught to learn that the audience is canceling en masse in favor of a top-secret attraction cooked up by famed nature-film maker and Siegel archenemy Carl Denham. (Denham, along with Kong love Ann Darrow and her fiancé, Jack Driscoll, are borrowed from the film.) Siegel is desperate to foil Denham, retrieve the audience, and have a hit before doofy Eastern European backer Sig Higginbottom pulls out. And as if the beleaguered producer hadn’t got enough to worry about with his ex-stripper mother (who has invested in the show) berating him and his diva wife scheming against him, a hayseed niece from Buffalo has just showed up sounding like Annie Oakley and hoping to get into show biz. All of these, plus a linguistically aspiring henchman who keeps vocabulary words in his pocket along with the brass knuckles, run in and out of an elaborate Art Deco hotel suite wielding, among other weapons, blonde bombshells and guns. In due time the King Kong characters, along with a portion of the big ape, put in an appearance.

Neary has a clever idea, though it means taking liberties with the Kong characters, turning creature-feature fanatic Denham into a vengeful womanizer and hunky rescuer Driscoll into a twanging dunce who eventually summons enough brainpower to deliver a Jethro-like recapitulation of what happened on Kong’s island. Here the attraction stealing Siegel’s thunder is a mystery that the desperate impresario and his cohort spend much of the evening trying to ferret out; the monkey’s not under such wraps in the movie. But digressions from the source material are less problematic than Neary’s script, which is more consistently frantic than hilarious. Trying to fire up Driscoll to join his team, Siegel says of Denham’s way with women, “He hypnotizes them ’til they’re rapt.” “Then he unwraps them?” the shocked fiancé responds. And that’s one of the brighter bits.

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