THE STONE MONKEY

by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Theatre Department performed its final production of this school year, with an original adaptation of the Chinese folktale “The Monkey King, “ which was written by Wu Cheng En during the Ming Dynasty in the 1500s. DESOTA, in collaboration with Creatively Independent, an ensemble based arts and education company, used the story as an inspiration for the creation of a unique hour of mesmerizing theatre presented on May 2,3,4 in the Black Box Theatre.
Theatre Department Chair Lee Beger invited Creatively Independent to create a theatre piece with selected students, from scratch, that would be mentally and physically challenging, all within a time frame of less than six weeks. The result, under the Artistic Direction of Jess Pillmore and Chris Beaulieu, was sixteen DA students acting out the story with engaging mimicry and seemingly tireless energy. The roles included fifteen monkeys and one Zoo Director. The plot briefly went like this. The Monkey King was born from stone and desired to be like immortals and free from death. Brave, intelligent, and resourceful, he could transform himself into 72 images, including birds, trees and buildings. Traveling on clouds, he could traverse 180,000 miles with a somersault. The play followed his adventures as he claimed to be a king, which led to battles with the all-powerful Jade Emperor. When the Monkey King asked Buddha for help, he was imprisoned for 500 years, until he was rescued by a monk.
When the theatre was opened, the dozen or so small children attending were given front row seats, and quickly became caught up in the monkey mania unfolding before their eyes. During the first half hour, the monkeys improvised, by making monkey sounds, scratching, swinging on ropes, wrestling, removing fleas from each other, and making faces at the enthralled audience.
After the Zoo Keeper appeared, the monkey chatter continued, but the actions were choreographed to fit the action of the story. The battle scenes were particularly intense. The travels of the Stone Monkey were illustrated by puppets viewed as silhouettes behind white sheets hung high on the back stage. Toward the climax of the show, the clever monkeys escaped from their caged enclosure and mingled with the audience; their curiosity and mischievous antics caused quite a stir and excitement among the patrons, young and old.
In addition to the cast, many more students were involved in this production. Cameron Parker did the Shadow Puppet Design and headed the prop crew. Kristen Moser was in charge of the deck crew, the large lighting crew was headed by Chelsie Williams, and Costumes Head Angel Ramirez also had a large crew. Each of the monkeys had a colorful unique face, and Sarah Robinson was in charge of crew that did the interesting makeup for all the perky primates.
Creatively Independent has recently relocated to Jacksonville, and Artistic Co-Directors Chris Beaulieu and Jess Pillmore are in the process of establishing an ensemble based studio focusing on performing arts for all ages. They have directed/choreographed over sixty shows across the country. While their impressive and extensive credits are too numerous to list here, you can check them out at www.creativelyindependent.net.
The excellent Stone Monkey cast included: Jay Cobain, Bryce Cueto, Nick Curry, Sarah DiGeorgio, Doriel Gale, Abby Gomez, Destini Hamilton, Jesse Jacobson, Aimee Masci, Christy Mull, Leila Ninya, Lauren Schwec, Dai’Ja Symon, Sarah Thorton, Ashley Turner, and Tabitha Tuckman.
This was one of the most unique and interesting plays we have ever reviewed. According to the Director’s Note, an old Chinese proverb says “Only a monkey understands a monkey.” Well, we know sixteen teenagers who certainly know a lot about monkeys and their habits, and even more about how to entertain an audience.

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