Lola-Lola, one of the better submissions in this year’s Fringe Festival, is well-written, well-directed, well-acted and a load of fun. John (Christopher Sutton) is a full professor of anthropology at a conservative Christian college and a nationally recognized expert on “the missing link” (or, rather, the apparent absence thereof). By the standards of his university, he is relatively liberal – that is, he accepts the general validity of the theory of evolution as it relates to all species other than man – but he refuses to believe that man, himself, descended from any ape-like ancestor, emphasizing the fact that “no fossil link” between man and the great apes has ever been found.
wife, Mary (Leanne Barrineau) seems to share John’s general convictions on the
subject of evolution and is herself a teacher of elementary school
students. She is also in the throes of
an extra-marital affair with Ted (Colin McFadden), who is John’s best friend
and a second-rate associate professor of anthropology at the university
himself. When Mary returns from a trip
to Africa, she brings back a pet chimpanzee named Lola-Lola (Melissa Sussman)
with her. And, as it turns out, the
chimpanzee is not only highly intelligent and insightful but falls in love with
John who ends up reciprocating her feelings.
at least, the play might appear to deal (at least metaphorically) with a whole
host of “big” issues including interracial marriage, same sex marriage, polygamy,
homosexuality, nature vs. nurture, animal rights, the advantages (or
disadvantages) of assimilation vs. the retention of one’s historic ethnic
identity, speciesism, and on and on and, assuredly, there will be those both on
the left and on the right with such intellectual, religious, political or
philosophical pretensions that they will focus all their attention on just
those sorts of metaphorical allusions. The liberals and secularists among them
surely will recognize in this play the obvious ignorance of the right in its
denial of the self-evident truth of evolution while the religious right is
certain to discover ample evidence of the left’s narrow-mindedness in its
refusal even to allow an investigation into intelligent design’s alternative
explanation to evolutionary theory.
Animal rights advocates will focus on the mistreatment of Lola-Lola and
will see in her the virtual evolution of a chimpanzee into a “woman” under the
proper environmental conditions.
Religious fundamentalists will disapprove of Ted and Mary’s
extra-marital affair but will see it as inconsequential in comparison to John’s
fornicating with a chimpanzee; secularist ethical relativists might consider
John’s behavior no more reprehensible than Mary’s.
if one focuses on issues of that sort, one will run the risk of failing to see
the forest for the trees. For the fact
is that this really is not a very deep nor intellectual
production – and I don’t think it was ever intended to be one. None of the
plays characters present any intellectually rigorous arguments in support of any
religious, political or philosophical positions and I don’t see that as an
oversight or shortcoming on the playwright’s part. On the contrary, I think that the playwright,
Peter Michalos, just wanted to create an entertaining work and he certainly
succeeded at that.
five of the play’s actors were wonderful in their respective roles: Christopher
Sutton as John, the renowned but conflicted anthropologist who ends up in the
sack with a chimpanzee; Leanne Barrineau as Mary, the shallow, unfaithful wife;
Colin McFadden as Ted, John’s disloyal friend, Mary’s lover and a second-rate
intellect; Dennis Z. Gagomiros in multiple comic roles, all of which he plays
to perfection; and, best of all, Melissa Sussman as Lola-Lola, a chimpanzee in
love with a human, on the cusp of becoming human herself, and yet still
maintaining her chimpanzee-ness. Her
performance alone was worth the price of admission.