The Woolly Mammoth Theatre has brought back “The Dead Monkey.” The play by Nick Darke is a fascinating portrayal of a California surfer couple that has relationship problems because of a pet monkey’s life and death. It is hilarious, shocking and thought-provoking.
At first, the play is a little unnerving because of the blatant extremes in almost every aspect of the production – characters, setting, lighting and plot. However, all these awkward pieces fit together and create a lasting impression. The things that initially seem like a weakness only add to the play’s strength.
An extreme change in the tone and mood takes place between the first and second acts. The play transforms from a very funny, slapstick, show to a realistic portrayal of the serious issues facing all married couples, as well as an exploration of the individual weaknesses that affect everyone.
The show contains only three characters, but no other characters are needed. David Marks plays Hank, the former surfer who has grown old and becomes a drunk. Hank remembers with longing and pride the good old days of riding the waves. Sarah Marshall plays Dolores, Hank’s wife. She also recalls the time when things were simpler.
Marks and Marshall give wonderful performances. The chemistry between them is vibrant during the high and low points of their relationship. Productions with few characters sometimes have a more difficult task of keeping the audience’s interest on the stage, but Marks and Marshall pull the audience into the show with the intense interaction between them.
The third character is the veterinarian. Because of the death of the monkey or some other random occurrence, he is in and out of Hank and Dolores’ house at any given point in the play. Bruce Nelson gives a phenomenal performance as the Vet. Throughout the show, Dolores and Hank use the Vet for leverage in their relationship problems. During tense times, the Vet offers relief, and during the times of conflict, he offers a sense of unity between the two. Nelson truly brings the role to life.
The setting and lighting add to the interaction of the characters. These elements also transform as the play develops and work well with all that occurs on stage. While the setting is an obnoxious representation of a cheap beach shack, it suits the performance. During the first act when the play is unfocused, the set reflects the situation with clutter and mess. But when the second act opens and the play starts to zoom in on the issues, the set follows suit and becomes neat and organized.
The lighting only adds to the effect of the set. During the pleasant and funny portions, the lighting is softer. When the issues become serious, the set is darker, and more shadows are used to create an eerie and oppressive mood on stage.
A small theater, the Woolly Mammoth’s cozy setting adds to the play’s charm. The small space offers the intimacy between actor and audience that pulls a production together. “The Dead Monkey” combines all of the right elements in a perfect setting to create a stunning production.
“The Dead Monkey” continues at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, at 1401 Church St., NW, through Oct. 14. Student tickets are $10.