1001 Real Apes; Jinkies!
by Anne Marie Donahue
David Greenberger's 1001 Real Apes (at the Peabody House
Theatre Coop through May 8) isn't about apes. And it isn't actually by
David Greenberger, who's a commentator for National Public Radio. Created in
collaboration with Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, one of Boston's most inventive
bands, the show is a whimsical amalgam of 31 quirky stories, reflections, and
opinions that Greenberger has culled from his interviews with old people,
interviews conducted mostly at nursing homes and published in more than 150
issues of a magazine called Duplex Planet. Greenberger's understated
delivery is crisp and gently cadenced, and the music is original. But on the
planet of 1001 Real Apes, as on the Duplex motherworld, the oldsters
Greenberger launched the magazine 20 years ago, when he was working as an
activities director at the Duplex Nursing Home in Jamaica Plain; since then
he's spun a constellation of side projects from Duplex Planet, among
them two books, a comic-book series, a couple of films, some radio shows, and
several CDs and live-performance pieces featuring such musicians as NRBQ
keyboardist Terry Adams and Lovin' Spoonful leader John Sebastian. When he
hooked up with the four gifted guys in Birdsongs (Michael Bierylo, Ken Field,
Erik Lindgren, and Rick Scott), Greenberger didn't ask them to create a score
for his material; instead, he listened to works and fragments they'd already
written and then chose stories and snippets from Duplex Planet that best
suited the music, a fresh and almost indescribable fusion of rock, jazz, modern
classical, sampled sound, and noise. It's a odd way to work, but work it
What makes it odder are the idiosyncrasies of the band Greenberger worked back
from. Birdsongs' music is funny in both senses of the word. Because it's
amusing, it could easily seem to be poking fun at the Duplex Planetarians --
yet it doesn't come off as mean-spirited in the least. In part because the band
riff on tunes and styles that were hot eons ago, such as Aaron Copland and
honky-tonk, the music swings with the old folks, not at them.
On the other hand, Birdsongs' signature strangeness appears to have led
Greenberger to pick the weirder dispatches from Duplex Planet. A cursory
perusal of a half-dozen fairly recent issues suggests that the mix for 1001
Real Apes is considerably more addled than that of the 'zines, which seem
to blend nonsensical wackiness and something like wisdom in roughly equal
measure. But to fault Greenberger for a sampling that's not representative of
our elderly population is to miss his project's point and purpose, which he
states in his program notes: "Since the elderly are already thought of by what
they have in common -- that they're all old -- I try to recast them as
individuals. They are individuals for whom the fact of their age, and the
decline that comes with it, doesn't alter the larger reality of waking up anew
every day as the same unique person."
How whacked-out are these old folks? Consider Arthur Wallace, who states the
following oddities as fact: "Years ago the countries in Europe were full of
minerals, but they ran out of it because they turned it all into silverware"
and "There's all kinds of women around Harvard Square, and about 10 or 15 of
them are wearing phony moustaches." And here's a psychedelic pearl from someone
identified only as Fergie: "You treat a dinosaur with courtesy, and they'll
treat you with courtesy. We got along with the dinosaurs very
well. . . . Their lady friends will tell you that we treat them very
well." To which I say: "Yabba-dabba-do!"
It's too bad Fergie and Mr. Wallace aren't around to give a lesson or two in
wackiness to the youngsters of the Fun and Games Stage Company, whose inaugural
production is being hosted by SpeakEasy Stage Company. Ostensibly a send-up of
the long-running TV cartoon Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, Jinkies!
The Scooby Doo Mysteries (at the Boston Center for the Arts through May
1) isn't nearly out-there or irreverent enough. Part of SpeakEasy's late-night
series (long the private fiefdom of the hilarious John Kuntz), Jinkies!
is a cartoon of a cartoon, which doesn't mean it's funny. In fairness, I must
report that the opening-night audience -- perhaps hard-core aficionados of the
TV show -- howled from start to end. But my advice to late-nighters expecting
offbeat entertainment from Fun and Games is this: Scooby-dooby-don't.