Rogue Machine and scribe Henry Murray have an end-of-worlds romance going. Two years after premiering his postapocalyptic pansexual “Treefall,” they bring us his preapocalyptic pansexual “Monkey Adored,” in which animals, portrayed by humans, await doomsday by acting out the best traits of their species (i.e. eating and humping) while they’re poisoned by the worst traits of ours. An uneven production of an uneven text, the audacious vest-pocket spectacle is nevertheless one of the most captivating attractions around right now.
It’s mostly la vie en rose for Madeline Kahn the cat (Amanda Mauer) and Brown Spot the dog (Justin Okin, alternating with David Mauer), breakfast buddies at downtown’s Le Cafe Cafe. True, the pup has a pulverizing crush on Sonny Bonobo (Edward Tournier), the preening simian who’s become Ms. Kahn’s latest flame now that he’s been released from an animal testing lab. But Sonny has no compunctions about riding Brownie’s lap to make occasional zoological whoopie, so who’s to complain?
But there are storm clouds on the horizon. Rumors about human scientists’ testing out remedies for radiation sickness suggest someone’s got a finger on the nuclear button.
And a “Paw Power” resistance movement is emerging from underground in the person of James Rat (Patrick Flanagan), a rapping rodent whose beady eye is always out for incipient urban terrorists willing to rise up against the oppressors.
Murray veers crazily (and at times uncomfortably) between punning and pathos, puppetry and poetry to accommodate all of his allegorical strains. Helmer John Perrin Flynn builds up considerable suspense as act one ends, but act two kicks off with a dead lull from which the play takes a while to rebound.
Moreover, two roles seem miscast. Mauer lacks feline allure, hamstrung by the tedious requirement to bugger all her l’s and r’s in the manner of her namesake’s Lili von Shtupp “Blazing Saddles” role.
She’s heavy-footed, but not as much as Flanagan, vocally forced in a part calling for the hairtrigger nervosity of Brad Pitt in “12 Monkeys.”
The others embrace their inner critters wholeheartedly. Jennifer Taub glows as Elaine the ostrich, blowsy cafe hostess whose struggle with illness never diminishes her sympathetic spirit.
Ron Bottitta drops amusingly gnomic utterances as a droll penguin (this waiter comes with his own tux), contributing a distinctive cameo as a great ape brought down by scientists’ unspeakable practices.
Tournier’s is a memorably physical performance incorporating monkey manner and human frailty. (The jaunty organ-grinder cap is a great touch from designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz.) If thesp has yet to fully embody Sonny’s anarchic lustfulness, he taps into a wealth of emotional authenticity when the damaged creature is drawn to martyrdom as a purifying act of meaning.
Throughout, he is sweetly in sync with Okin’s sincere, heartbreakingly loyal hound. Their unlikely romance ends up seeming as natural as Romeo and Juliet’s and, under Dan Weingarten’s delicate lighting effects, equally star-crossed.
Magically, through all the monkeyshines, Murray manages to bring us closer to an understanding of the exquisite pain of love as practiced by the human animal.