Review: ‘Report to an Academy’ at Scena Theatre

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Scena Theatre opens the company’s 30th Anniversary Season with Report to an Academy, an emotionally powerful drama. Report to an Academy is based on the 1917 classic short story by Franz Kafka. According to the Scena website,” His characters often venture on a terrifying quest enduring physical and psychological torture….McNamara will compel patrons to ponder the issues of free will, vegetarianism, and animal rights.”

Robert McNamara in 'Report to an Academy.' Photo courtesy of Scena Theatre.
Robert McNamara in ‘Report to an Academy.’ Photo courtesy of Scena Theatre.

Report to an Academy, a one-man drama, is adapted for the stage by acclaimed German director Gabriele Jakobi. The production features Scena Theatre founder and Artistic Director Robert McNamara as “Red Peter” the Ape.

We experience struggle and strength of will as Red Peter, an intelligent captured ape, adapts and imitates his jailors because his very survival depends upon it. Red Peter’s story of his former life are revealed as he presents the tale to a top scientific Academy – the audience members who inhabit the intimate atmosphere of Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lab I.

Red Peter delivers his report five years after the fact and is “more comfortable in the world of men.” He tells of long hours in a 3-sided cage (with a locker on the 4th) so small the bars cut into flesh. McNamara folds his body on a spare wooden chair, squeezing an arm over his head to lend a sense of the confinement for the cage that had “no way out.”

Robert McNamara in 'Report to an Academy.' Photo courtesy of Scena Theatre.
Robert McNamara in ‘Report to an Academy.’ Photo courtesy of Scena Theatre.

Red Peter wasn’t thinking of freedom but only a way out, to “not stay motionless.” He learned to imitate the crew who was always teasing, poking, and spitting, as McNamara surprisingly and rhythmically demonstrates. McNamara leans an elbow in friendly overstatement or approaches eye-to-eye, pushing back on our personal space as he commands his own.

Having attained the “cultural level of the average European,” we learn the reward was either the zoological garden or the variety stage. Obviously, the variety stage won out. Frequent sporadic dances with a cane are reminiscent of vaudeville soft-shoe, simple in repetition, yet delivered with an eagerness to entertain.

The precise direction by Gabriele Jakobi allows for moments of reflection to fill the simple space, perhaps a recalling of being backed into a corner carved by circumstances with no way out. The staging is enhanced by Marianne Meadows’ introspective lighting design which highlights and accentuates McNamara’s pronounced delivery and exacting range.

Denise Rose’a sound design effectively utilizes excerpts from Composer Nino Rota’s work often heard in his film scores written for Federico Fellini. The music lends a carnival atmosphere to the tragedy. The sparse, yet effective, set design by John D. Antone complements the story-telling. Roy Spahn’s costuming is simple and believable and Red Peter is both slightly disheveled with folded cuffs, a suit cut not quite right and culturally correct as his “ape nature is not quite under control.”

This adaptation of Report to an Academy was performed at the 2014 Capital Fringe Festival, and more recently at the 2016 Prague Fringe Festival.

Scena’s Report to an Academy features a tour de force performance by Robert McNamara that should be seen and experienced.

Running Time: 65 minutes, with no intermission.

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Report to an Academy plays through September 25, 2016 at Scena Theatre performing at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 339-7993, or purchase them online.

LINK:
Capital Fringe 2014 Review: ‘Report to An Academy’ by Eliza Anna Falk.

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