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One Monkey Don't Stop No Show

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Don Evans, an African American playwright and professor who died ten years ago, is an interesting discovery, a Philadelphian comic counterweight, perhaps, to August Wilson and his Pittsburgh plays which the Tricycle promoted so memorably before the verbatim documentary dramas came along.

Evans' One Monkey Don't Stop No Show is a 1970s satirical comedy about middle-class black Philadelphians thrown into moral chaos when sex rears its bobbing head and a preacher's virginal niece from the rural South hooks up with his dead brother's business partner in a shady nightclub.

It's much more Molière than The Cosby Show, which Dawn Walton's production for the touring Eclipse Theatre Company mistakenly evokes in its publicity, along with Restoration comedy; this results in the disastrous framework of a "live" recorded sit-com in which the acting is stylised but grotesque, we are the studio audience, dummy, and characters come and go to canned laughter and applause.

Perhaps Walton thinks that punters in the sticks will only cotton on if spoon-fed a television format. But Evans' writing is so strong that the play wins out in the second act, which I enjoyed a lot, and with relief, after the messiness of the first. And everything about the confessional encounters, liberated sex scenes and direct soliloquies, is totally theatrical, rendering the big red "On Air" sign superfluous.

Karl Collins and Jocelyn Jee Esien as the preacher and his Malapropism-prone wife (someone's "cemented," not "demented," she offers "hostility" instead of "hospitality") are very funny as middle-aged stays are loosened after their son plants a sex manual on the sofa.

And there's a knock-out double by Jacqueline Boatswain as a slinky, bodacious beautician and the crabby, grasping mother of the son's not quite suitable larger girlfriend, L'il Bits (Rochelle Rose, making a sweet debut).

Miss Bits, as she's known, and lover-boy Felix (an elasticated Isaac Ssebandeke) are the comic romantic sub-plot to the main bill of Rebecca Scroggs' battling Beverley, the country girl in plaits and dungarees, and Clifford Samuel's preening, bare-chested night owl, whose office at the club, stacked with vinyl record sleeves in Libby Watson's design, revolves to become a pull-down bedroom.

By the end, we have one rejuvenated marriage, one new one, and one relationship almost certainly on the rocks, after a series of good spiky dialogue scenes and some brutally straight talking. The play has sparked to life, and made its points, despite the handicap of the "comedy show."


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