Aping Monkeys

EST's "First Light" science fare

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Serendib
By David Zellnik
The Ensemble Studio Theatre
549 West 52nd Street 212-352-3101

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David Zellnik's Serendib travels all the way to Sri Lanka to discover that, given the chance, a multinational team of animal behaviorists will act like a typical Survivor cast. Under the scrutiny of a BBC reality show, head ethologist Fischke (Joseph Adams) battles his rival Ramsov (P.J. Sosko) for control of his project and the fickle heart of team member Anna (Nitya Vidyasagar). Early on, Ramsov poses a fascinating question: How much of our supposed understanding of animals is based on pure projection? But Zellnik swiftly jettisons this puzzle to focus on that more familiar chestnut—-what do women want? When Fischke intones, "Men get love through power, and women get power through love," he isn't kidding. Neanderthal sexual politics aside, the play's most striking conceit has the macaque monkeys under study mirroring the scientists' internal conflicts. This entails a good deal of simulated monkey-talk and hand-puppet fighting from the actors, doubling as the scientists' simian counterparts. The cast carries off their macaque duties with good humor, under Emily DeCola's puppetry direction but Carlos Armesto, directing their human guises, too often has the actors shouting over the script's lapses in plausibility. ("Science will be returned to where it belongs: the lab!") Ryan Elliot Kravetz's design and Graham Johnson's sound are lushly artificial, reinforcing an atmosphere more "Enchanted Tiki Room" than Gorillas in the Mist.

 
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