The North Crawford Playhouse will offer its first summer theater production, ‘House of Monkeys,’ on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. The play is scheduled to be performed for the following two weekends.
The event will mark a new beginning for the North Crawford Players on two fronts. Not only will this be the first time that the playhouse will engage the full community in a production, but the play itself is an original work written by local resident Dennis Kern, who will also direct it.
Kern had been wrestling with bringing the life of the French director, actor and comic writer, Moliere to the stage for over 30 years. Many times, Kern had sat down to capture the man and his work on paper without success. Then one day last summer, while the playwright was looking at a sketch of a pole decorated with carved monkeys from Moliere’s house, the magic arrived. What if the monkeys came alive? What if the monkeys told the story of Moliere?
In rhymed couplets
One of the challenges to delivering the story was that Moliere wrote in rhymed couplets, or as the monkeys speak the rhyme in the play:
Oh, but quick we’ve brewed a story
Of this newborn’s love and glory
“Once the monkeys took over the telling of the story the rhyme just leapt to the page from somewhere between Moliere’s France and Gays Mills, Wisconsin,” Kern recalled.
With a creative surge, the play was completed, rhymed couplets and all, in just six weeks. But did the words work? Kern sought the listening ear of North Crawford Playhouse Director Rob Ghormley and after several trips to the high school, and with the help of readings by students, the final draft of the two-act play was completed.
The play is essentially a musical romp through the life and work of Moliere, whose birthplace was known as ‘The House of Monkeys.’ Moliere was born in a two-story house in Paris in 1622. The second story was supported by a column on which were carved a series of monkeys standing on each other’s shoulders from top to bottom.
Monkeys tell the story
Kern’s play begins as these monkeys are awakened by the birth cries of Moliere and they come to life on stage, laughing and singing to tell of the glories and failings of Moliere.
But monkey see as monkey do,
As humans mix in such a stew.
The mix and simmer is the trick
The sprigs of clock time tick and tick
We stir and steam into the mix
Our savory seasoned monkey licks.
What about the local playwright?
Kern first moved to the area about 10 years ago after a theatre career that began at UW-LaCrosse. The college graduate went on to serve as an actor’s apprenticeship at The Theatre in Monmouth, Maine.
Ultimately, Kern graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Later, he began the Ark Improvisational Theatre in Madison, where he taught Joan Cusack and the late Chris Farley, both of who would work at Second City and eventually Saturday Night Live.
Improvisational theater was one more hook into Kern’s deep interest in Moliere, since it is Moliere who took improvisation from the street of seventeenth century France and brought it onto the stage of the formal theater.
“Just as Moliere gave voice to the characters of street improvisers, the monkeys gave voice to the life of Moliere, and the words rose to complete the story that became the play, ‘The House of Monkeys’,” Kern said.
Backed by great music
In the play, the monkeys’ words are sung along to the original music of composer Bill Neil. Though currently based in Westby, Neil’s compositions have been performed on both sides of the Atlantic and have been featured at the Festival of Music in Evian, France, as well as the Electronic Plus Festival in New York and the Pontino Festival in Italy.
Even though the play is nearly filled with music, it is not a musical in the traditional sense, where the dialogue is a tool to move from one song to another. Neil composes captivating incidental music, so even though the characters sing within the play, much of the mood is carried to the audience by music beneath the action as is the case in a film.
The first public unveiling of this locally created play arrives beneath a full moon later this month, when an open reading of the work is offered at the Old Oak Inn in Soldiers Grove, on Monday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.
“The goal is to offer everyone who is interested in the play, an opportunity to get a feeling for the style and subject of the work in a one-hour reading,” Kern explained. “As many know, it takes a community effort to produce this kind of project. So, it begins for the community with this reading.”