The Making of King Kong
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Theater review by Helen Shaw
Lisa Clair’s The Making of King Kong has an editing problem. It includes a naughty sweded-movie–style remake of the 1933 film King Kong, a goofy-bad pseudomusical about White Yoga Ladies trying to dominate their supposed oppressors, and a heartfelt appeal that breaks the fourth wall. How do these pieces fit together? Well, they don’t, exactly. The ragged edges provides some immediate pleasures: Several of the performances are quite funny, Clair has a good instinct for experimental theatrical chaos, and Caitlin Ayer’s super-scrappy set should get its own round of applause. (She makes a giant gorilla hand out of what looks like three black pool noodles.) But silliness isn’t the only thing that Clair and her director, Eugene Ma, are going for.
The mission of Clair’s comedy is to decolonize, and possibly defang, King Kong. You don’t need to be flying a plane around the Empire State Building to realize that Kong is an easy target: Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 film was chock-a-block with nasty stereotypes, antiblack racism and heaping masses of toxic masculinity. In Clair’s tongue-in-cheek version, Cooper (Ean Sheehy) swaggers around with his movie camera, flattering star Fay Wray (a sly Molly Pope) and bucking up his creepy co-director and friend, Ernest B. Schoedsack (Hanlon Smith-Dorsey). Clair cunningly blurs the lines between Cooper filming Wray and the Kong director-character Denham filming the character Ann Darrow, which lets Sheehy and Pope do some quite intricate stylized work, with the characters moving like Egyptian bas-relief against a screen showing David Pym’s clever black-and-white video projections.
In the second half, the movie screen splits down the middle, and as it’s pushed apart, we see Clair’s version of Skull Island: a lot of potted ferns and white gentrifiers doing yoga. The droll narrator (Kevin R. Free) we’ve been hearing since the beginning is revealed at his table, and the White Yoga Ladies (Sauda Aziza Jackson, Claire Fort and Youree Choi) try to take over Cooper’s shoot and, metatheatrically, the production itself. These women are big into their supernatural “pussy power”—Normandy Sherwood’s costumes include spectacular jellyfish genitalia—and with them, Clair shifts her attention to a critique of exclusionary white feminism.
The shift in attention from Kong to the White Yoga Ladies is a big, confident gesture that hasn’t quite been worked out, and what must have felt immediate and stinging during the devising process seems, already, a little out of date. Perhaps it should have been performed back in February, at the height of not-all-pussies-are-pink backlash? (The world is cruel to topical satire.) To reclaim a sense of immediacy, narrator Free then tells the other actors to ask for what they want. One raises a fist: “Intersectional feminism!” Another one says, “New stories.” Yes! They all nod. It is time for new stories. But hasn’t Clair just gotten a lot of mileage from a story that’s 85 years old? They leave that unsaid, and it’s the gorilla in the room.
The Doxsee at Target Margin Theater (Off-Off Broadway). By Lisa Clair. Directed by Eugene Ma. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 25minutes. No intermission.
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