Writer: Lisa Clair
Director: Eugene Ma
Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers
Lisa Clair’s new play The Making of King Kong, presented by Target Margin Theater, is an ambitious piece that examines racism, sexism, and classism through a darkly comedic portrayal of the creating of the film King Kong, directed by Merian C. Cooper and starring Fay Wray. Leaning into the problematic components of the iconic film, playwright Lisa Clair creates a metatheatrical, postdramatic experience that calls into question the norms we accept and the damage they do in the permeation of our culture.
The play begins with a compelling conceit – using recorded film media and live camera work along with actors gives the sense of the cyclical nature of creation, the literal framing of one’s own narrative, and the sensationalism at work in making the source film a behemoth zeitgeist phenomenon. It becomes immediately apparent that this is not a docudrama, but instead a darkly absurd imagining of the forces behind the picture.
There are shining moments, and some major talent onstage. In particular Molly Pope as Fay Wray and Ean Sheehy as Merian C. Cooper drive the energy of the piece beautifully; they’re captivating. As the play moves forward and opens up to a major stylistic shift about a third of the way through, the social commentary becomes heavy-handed to the point that it is difficult to see the play around it. Even when one is in total agreement with the commentary, the overt bludgeoning of the central theme becomes tedious, and running gags start to age in a way that makes the eighty-five-minute play feel significantly longer.
The design and direction of The Making of King Kong have a distinctly Brooklyn-warehouse feel, which is to the credit of Eugene Ma (director), Caitlin Ayer (scenic design), Samuel Chan (lighting design), and David Pym (video/media design). The aesthetic and conceit of the play are engrossing, which compensates a bit for the overwrought components.
The energy of this production is of newness and pushing social and aesthetic boundaries, and for that it has a lofty goal and hits the mark in many ways. As a new play, perhaps with a bit of time (and the willingness to kill one’s creative darlings), the potential to be something singular could be reached. As it currently stands, unless one is convenient to Sunset Park, it may be best to save the transit time and keep an eye out for the next iteration of this promising theatrical experience.
Runs until 15 December 2018 | Image: Maria Baranova