Review: The Man Who Ate Rockefeller

A famous explorer's African voyage goes terribly wrong.

  • Photograph: Lia Chang


  • Photograph: Lia Chang


  • Photograph: Lia Chang


  • Photograph: Lia Chang


Photograph: Lia Chang


Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Jeff Cohen's taut dramedy—an engaging and economical work of historical fiction based on a story by Christopher Stokes—hits fast and hard and leaves you sated. Inspired by golden boy Michael Rockfeller (Nelson's youngest son), who went missing in the Asmat region of New Guinea in 1961, the play explores complex themes—globalization; colonization; cultural, racial and language barriers; sex, love and infertility—while managing to be outrageously funny.

Tribesmen Half Moon Terror (David King) and Designing Man (the exceptional Daniel Morgan Shelley) are just hanging out when Rockefeller (Aaron Strand, the ultimate innocent) intrudes, snapping photos like a wide-eyed Times Square tourist. Taken with the Asmat culture and people, he commissions Designing Man to create pieces for a museum exhibit. The two men are simpatico, but their relationship—and ultimately Rockfeller's head—are cut down in the name of politics.

The intentionally lurid title is really a ruse: This isn't Rockefeller's story at all. He speaks in goofy gibberish while the natives converse in English and earn our sympathies (at least until the end) and our laughs. A tour-de-force sex scene, during which a tribeswoman attempts to manipulate Designing Man via acrobatic moves and constant nagging, is particularly uproarious.

Director Alfred Preisser, formerly of the Classical Theatre of Harlem, employs the talent of many of his old cohorts, including costume designer Kimberly Glennon, whose evocative duds mirror Heather Wolensky's sparse but symbolic black, white and red set. Although just over an hour, the show gives audiences a feast to chew on.

See more Theater reviews

ArcLight Theater (see Off Broadway). By Jeff Cohen. Dir. Alfred Preisser. With ensemble cast. 1hr 5mins. No intermission.