Adolescence has never made for particularly pretty subject matter. On television, children usually rapidly age from cute cherub to mature teenager, somehow skipping a crucial stage in the natural aging process. One's naturally changing body only makes an occasional appearance as a subplot on the Disney Channel or WB. And filmdom's closest portrayal of puberty as metaphor remains...Teen Wolf? This is true, and one might expect to find a similar comedic metaphor in Gorilla Man, which just opened at P.S. 122. The latest play by Obie winner Kyle Jarrow is part horror show and part rock opera but all camp, and for rather lowbrow humor, director Habib Azar has assembled a high-caliber company. There aren't very many lessons to learn along the way, but ultimately it is a not much different animal from the aforementioned film and its sequel.
Jarrow (onstage as the Piano Player) narrates this musical, with Perry Silver (the Drummer) helping him reference the show's own plot devices and genre elements. Fourteen-year-old Billy (Jason Fuchs) awakens to find he has started growing immense amounts of fur on the back of his hands. When he confronts his mother (a wonderfully game Stephanie Bast), he discovers that he is actually the product of a tryst between her and the Gorilla Man (Matt Walton), a hirsute beast with a penchant for gruesome murders. Billy learns that it is his destiny to follow in that path. When she is unable to kill her son, Mother, as she is known, casts him out.
Billy runs into several interesting people in this darkly comic, Wizard of Oz-like bildungsroman. These characters include a fortuneteller, a politician, a prison guard, a truck driver, and a vagrant, all portrayed by Burl Moseley and Nell Mooney. These characters, Jarrow instructs the audience, serve to teach Billy about such topics as forgiveness, fate, fear, failure, and fatherhood.
But whether taken merely on a surface level or as metaphor, Gorilla, with its not-quite-artful song lyrics and instructional storytelling, lacks oomph in the message department. The play hits on the notion of individuality, of loving who you are and not trying to run away from it, but never delves particularly deep into that idea.
Only at play's end does Jarrow provide any kind of resolution, in arguing in favor of free will over both nature and nurture. He espouses the idea that Billy does not necessarily have to succumb to his father's murderous fate. But the play just ties a nice ribbon at the end, directly telling its audience that it believes in free will more than the formative forces of genetics and one's upbringing. It would have been more impressive had Jarrow demonstrated this theme a little more consistently throughout the show.
Additionally, while it was a smart choice to limit the production to one act