‘Not My Monkey’ at InterAct Story Theatre at The Gaithersburg Arts Barn

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What do you get when you combine bright and bouncy circus fun with some valuable life lessons? The answer is Not My Monkey, a delightful and highly interactive comedy, produced through a partnership between the InterAct Story Theatre and the Gaithersburg Arts Barn. Written and directed by Ali Oliver-Krueger, Not My Monkey is essentially a children’s show, but it can be enjoyed by “children” from ages 4 to 104!

The cast of ‘Not a Monkey': Jack Novak, Anna Jackson, Alani Kravitz, and Sarah King. Photo courtesy of InterAct Story Theatre.
The cast of ‘Not My Monkey’: Jack Novak, Anna Jackson, Alani Kravitz, and Sarah King. Photo courtesy of InterAct Story Theatre.

The title was inspired by an old Polish expression, “Nie moj cyrk; nie moje malpy,” which translates to “Not my circus; not my monkey,” and basically means, “not my problem.” The play opens with an explanation of what actors do and the importance of using one’s imagination, as well as a rehearsal of some of the audience participation that will be requested later on.

Not My Monkey tells the story of Tekla Zaba, a young woman who recently became the ringmaster of a Polish traveling circus after her parents retired and moved to Florida. Tekla has a lot of new ideas about ways to improve the circus, but she is resented by some of the veteran circus performers. They say, “Why should I listen to her? I knew her when she was in diapers!”

As Tekla begins her first performance in a new town, Murphy’s Law abounds.  Everything that can go wrong does go wrong—from a leaky tent to stinky animal cages to mad monkeys running everywhere, and ultimately a complaint from the Town Council. Still, in the midst of all this lunacy, Tekla presses forward.

An extremely talented cast of versatile actor-acrobats brings the story to life. They sing; they dance; they juggle; they ride a unicycle! Anna Jackson beautifully portrays Tekla Zaba, displaying the exuberance and optimism of youth, while demonstrating her acrobatic skills by forming the top of a cheerleader’s pyramid.

Meanwhile, Alani Kravitz shines in several different roles. As a blue-haired clown, she picks up barbells with ease. As the magician, Alexy the Amazing Illusionist, she is comically inept. Even with the audience shouting on cue, “Oo ee oo ah ah!,” his (her) best magic trick fails. However, Kravitz outdoes herself as Delia the Dazzler, the Bearded Lady. In this case, the word “dazzler” is no misnomer, as she defiantly belts out the rhythmic hip hop number, “Nobody Else is Me.”

I’ve got style; I’ve got grace
Just a little extra flair on my face
No one can make me feel out of place,
‘Cause nobody else is me!

Jack Novak is both funny and amazing in a variety of roles. He starts out as a clown, and then metamorphoses into Gunther Gebel Wilhelm, the animal tamer who turns the audience into elephants and horses and leads them in a quiz game. Later, Novak plays Glenda, the magician’s “lovely” assistant, complete with a towering blonde wig. But his show-stopping performance is as Mariusz, the knife-thrower, who is Tekla’s principal antagonist. Mariusz longs for the old days when Tekla’s parents were in charge and wants to keep everything the same as it used to be.

The nearest thing to a perpetual motion machine, Sarah King plays the young, energetic clown with verve and panache. Even Writer/Director Ali Oliver-Krueger takes an impressive turn on the boards as the President of the Town Council.

Denise Young’s costumes, Tom Teasley’s music, Micah Lubens’ lighting, and Peter Oliver-Krueger’s set design and props all combine to create the perfect circus atmosphere. Crimson curtains with gold trim form the centerpiece of the simple, but very effective, set. Jack Novak’s glittery white evening gown, Alani Kravitz’s white tie and tails and Sarah King’s rainbow-colored tutu top the extensive list of appropriately outrageous costumes.

Not My Monkey is a multi-media experience, with two television screens on either side of the stage The show is interrupted periodically with “Action News Updates,” complete with an eye-in-the-sky helicopter report. (Hint: adult audience members should pay particular attention to the names of the television reporters.)

In addition to being a thought-provoking, family-friendly, and thoroughly painless teaching aid, Not My Monkey is an uproariously funny, colorful, and acrobatic romp. In short, Not My Monkey is more fun than a barrel of . . . !

Running Time: Approximately 55 minutes, with no intermission.

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Not My Monkey plays through October 26, 2014 (with a special “Pajama Party” performance on October 17, 2014) at Interact Story Theatre performing at at The Gaithersburg Arts Barn — 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call (301) 258-6394,or purchase them online.

LINK
An Interview with InterAct Story Theatre’s Ali Oliver-Krueger on ‘Not My Monkey’ at The Arts Barn in Gaithersburg.

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Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell
The most important thing about Paul M. Bessel is that on January 1, 2011, he married the most wonderful woman in the world, who helped him expand his enjoyment of theater. (The first show he remembers was Fiorello! when he was ten, wearing his first suit.) He and his wife now attend as many musicals, history seminars, and concerts as possible, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 a week, enjoying retirement and the joys of finding love late in life, and going on unconventionally romantic dates such as exhibits of mummies and lectures on parliamentary procedure. They live in Leisure World of Maryland and in addition to going to theaters as often as they can they are active together in community and local political organizations. Barbara Braswell grew up in Newport RI, where Jackie Kennedy once bought her an ice cream cone. She has been interested in theatre her whole life. While pursuing a 33-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation — helping states build highways, including H-3 in Hawaii, where Barbara helped arrange for a shaman to bless the highway — she attended as many shows as possible on her own, with her late mother, and now with her husband. Now retired, she devotes a great deal of time to theatre, community and local political meetings, and having as much fun as possible.