The Boston Phoenix
April 29 - May 6, 1999

[Dance Reviews]

| reviews & features | play by play | listings by theater | hot links |

Worlds apart

1001 Real Apes; Jinkies!

by Anne Marie Donahue

1001 Real Apes 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 rule.

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 does.

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.

| home page | what's new | search | about the phoenix | feedback |
Copyright © 1999 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group. All rights reserved.