Lincoln Center Festival: Monkey-Journey to the West

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Photograph: Stephanie Berger
Monkey: Journey to the West
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Photograph: Stephanie Berger
Monkey: Journey to the West
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Photograph: Stephanie Berger
Monkey: Journey to the West
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Photograph: Stephanie Berger
Monkey: Journey to the West
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Photograph: Stephanie Berger
Monkey: Journey to the West

Monkey: Journey to the West. David H. Koch Theater (see Off Broadway). Concept, libretto and direction by Chen Shi-Zheng. Music by Damon Albarn. Visuals and animation by Jamie Hewlett. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs. No intermission.

Monkey: Journey to the West: in brief

The Monkey King leads a monk on a wild search for Buddhist scriptures in Chen Shi-Zheng's multimedia adaptation of a 16th-century Chinese folktale, the theatrical centerpiece of this year's Lincoln Center Festival. The music is by Blur's Damon Albarn, and the design is by his Gorillaz bandmate Jamie Hewlett.

Monkey: Journey to the West: theater review by David Cote

Multiplex hordes, keep your zombie swarms, robot-versus-dinosaur slugfests and turgid superhero reboots: This summer’s biggest jaw-dropper in terms of OMG optics yoked to dopey storytelling has to be Monkey: Journey to the West. A big-budget multimedia collision (collaboration seems too tidy) between Chinese and British artists over a 16th-century novel, Monkey is a mess—but an energizing one, alternately goofy and garish.

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Inspired by the 1592 multivolume tale of a 7th-century Chinese monk’s sojourn to India to receive Buddhist scriptures, Monkey is a spiritual fable about the path to enlightenment—with an emphasis on how lurid and violent that path can be. Our hero is a simian egomaniac who sneers, giggles and picks fights for the hell of it. After irritating the Buddha one time too many, he is imprisoned for 500 years, after which he is released to help the aforementioned monk on his quest. Along for the ride is a pig-man and an ex-general turned cannibalistic river dweller. (You should devote a good 20 minutes to your program notes before curtain.) Director and librettist Chen Shi-Zheng unloads this mythic hokum in visually impressive but massively underthought tableaux stuffed with acrobatics, martial-arts displays and acting from the Teletubbies school of dramatic art. Between scenes, Jamie Hewlett’s manga-style animations are diverting, but hardly necessary. Ex-Blur frontman Damon Albarn’s polyglot score (bits of electronica, Glass-type minimalism and Chinese opera) is the best element, and frankly, it deserves a better showcase.

If you don’t ask for shaded character, smooth transitions—hell, narrative coherence of any sort—none of this structural crudeness or aesthetic vulgarity will bother you. And if you are in that even more rarefied demo that loves Blur, kung fu fighting, cartoons and Buddhist nostrums, you will go ape.—Theater reivew by David Cote

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

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Chinese cultural

this is the most distort version of "Journey to the West" I had ever seen. Nothing closed to the real story of "Journey to the West" that I grew up with. the original story was the legendary pilgrimage to India of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang. He travelled to the "Western Regions" during the Tang Dynasty, to obtain sacred texts (sūtras). The bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin), on instruction from the Buddha, gives this task to the monk and his three protectors in the form of disciples — namely Sun Wukong / Monkey King, Zhu Bajie/Pig and Sha Wujing/ Friar Sand, and a dragon prince who acts as Xuanzang's steed, a white horse. These four characters have agreed to help Xuanzang as an atonement for past sins. it’s a journey of how the monk and his disciples cultivate and let go of their desire and attachments. I was always very inspired and facisnated with every test they’ve been through. In this acrobatic version of the story, it wasn’t expressed well on the story theme, rather, it mispresents the greatest classical literature in China. I would be happy to just read the book.