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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 18, 2002

'Monkey' has charm and action to spare

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic

 •  'Amazing Adventures of the Marvelous Monkey King'

Where: Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter, tomorrow and Oct. 26; Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College, Nov. 2 and 9.

Performances: 4:30 and 7:30 pm.

Tickets: $12 and $6

Information: 839-9885

Elizabeth Wong's "Amazing Adventures of the Marvelous Monkey King" follows an episodic structure. This works well when each new story leaves us anticipating the next in a string of adventures. It's a disadvantage when we start shifting in our seats wondering "are we there yet?"

The interesting phenomenon in the Honolulu Theatre for Youth production is that the kids in the audience can't seem to get enough of the central character, while the adults are reduced to the level of a squirming 7-year-old on an interminable car trip. It could be that adults want clarity and dramatic closure, while the kids enjoy the story's ride.

There is a lot for the kids to enjoy in the "Monkey King" serial adventures, starting with Jonathan Clarke Sypert's athletic performance in the title role. Sypert's first move is a shoulder roll from a fetal position into a one-armed cartwheel that brings him lightly to agile monkey-feet. The kids release an audible hum of approval that only continues to grow during the rest of the performance. He does back flips and meditates while standing on his head.

Sypert makes the mischievous prankster easy to like, funny and a very approachable hero — prone to mistakes, but bubbling over with good feeling. He teaches the other monkeys how to climb trees and groom each other for fleas. Because of his good ideas, he's a natural leader. This takes him to higher levels, including a relationship with the goddess Kwan Yin that tests his courage and his character.

The production also is visually remarkable, as the three-member supporting cast (Monica Cho, Hermen Tesoro Jr. and Kelly Williams) is stunningly decked out by designer Kathe James in opulent robes from the Chinese opera. Their rapid costume changes create a string of characters, highlighted with vivid masks and make-up, rich fabrics, and colorful headdresses and beards.

Other Asian conventions include percussion accompaniment, martial arts, acrobatic dance and a bit of narration that announces each episode like a miniature set piece.

Directed by Harry Wong III, there is often so much going on in the meandering story that we'd appreciate a map to track the action. However, several special moments stand out.

The Monkey King learns patience by sitting still for five days, and displays compassion by leaving his seat to rescue one of his detractors. He learns that being humble is not the same as being a doormat and that showing off leads to unpleasant consequences.

However, only when he loves and forgives his enemies does he earn his crown.

The play is filled with plenty of monkey business, visual humor and the occasional droll line. Ultimately, the character's charm and the exotic costumes overcome the script's jumbled message and its run-on plot.