Make Yourself At Home – Lucy Goosey

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A REVIEW BY RIVER STYX

[Hey, you guuuuuuys….we’ve got a new member of our weird little family up in here!  Familiarize yourself with the fabulous River Styx.  Styx is a powerhouse of an individual – she’s an actor and she works in professional theater in her “real life”, so she knows her shit.  I’m really proud to introduce her and to have captured her for my own.  She’s funny, she’s smart and she’s a hell of a pie baker (I hope) and knife throwing expert (I REALLY HOPE).  Take a little ride down the River, just don’t get thrown off along the way! – Kisses, TBO]

I’m not into monkeys and I’m not really into performance art. But, I’m into Make Yourself at Home, the latest show in Annex Theater’s Knee Play Series, which features various short-form experimental performances by area artists.

Make Yourself at Home is a new, original 10-minute performance piece that is performed for one audience member at a time by area theater artist Cricket Arrison, a heavyweight when it comes to avant garde theater in Baltimore. And yeah, there’s a monkey involved. And you are the monkey. Whaaa?

The piece is based on Lucy Temerlin, the gin-guzzling, Playgirl-reading chimpanzee made famous in Life Magazine in the 1970s, and again in 2010 radio stories on NPR’s Radio Lab and This American Life. She was raised like a human and then sent back to the jungle to live as a chimp. (Sad end story: Lucy’s skeleton was found beheaded and missing hands when her caretakers looked for her in the Gambian jungle a year after leaving her to live like a chimp.)

In Make Yourself at Home, you are Lucy. But you don’t know this until you’re in a cage with Cricket, who is signing at you and asking you to identify colors on different cards.

I get to the Chicken Box just in time for my 9:30 pm Friday, Feb. 20, slot. The woman at the door puts a monkey mask with an elastic band on me and ushers me down a makeshift corridor, where I’m handed off to another woman who greets me like an old friend. I don’t know what to do with my purse and coat, or how to react. Should I say “Hey, girl! Long time!”? Hug it out? My new friend gingerly ushers me to a seat at a table in a cage, and starts going on about how I’ve been gone two days – this is different from the nine hours I’m usually off exploring. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be. I don’t know what the hell is going on. I try to wrap my head around what is happening as jungle music plays in the background.

This woman obviously knows “me,” but is talking to me like I’m a 6-year-old. I don’t know if I should be offended, but she’s pretty nice and seems to know me well and care for me. Then she starts signing at me. Oh, I’m deaf? …But you’re talking to me, too. Whaaa? Wait a second, is this mask literal? Am I an actual monkey? And you keep calling me “Lucy.” OK. Got it. I’m Lucy the monkey who knows sign language.

She whips out four paint color cards – red, yellow, blue green– and splays them in front of me. “Point to yellow.” I point to red. Fuck. I’ve already fucked up my role of smart monkey who understands sign language. I quickly correct myself, and nail the other prompts. “Point to blue.” Fuck yeah, this one’s blue. Green? Bam! That one.

Just when I’m getting into a groove, the nice lady says that’s enough for today and signs some more. Fun fact: I actually used to know sign language because there were a couple of deaf kids in my sixth-grade class. But in the moment all I remember are the gestures for “donkey” and “thank you.” I pull out the latter, and feel pretty damn pleased with myself. I AM Lucy, the signing monkey! On this high, the nice lady ushers me out of the cage and down the makeshift corridor, where I return the monkey mask and leave the building. The whole experience took a total of eight minutes.

In that time, I went on a journey from disorientation to helplessness to curiosity, realization, and then a strong bonding with Cricket and my chimp alter-ego. It was a ride, and the experience stayed with me for days after.

The rush of emotional switches, grasping blindly at what was going on, and finally the grounding realization I was a main character – an animal one at that – made me think. I don’t know if Cricket was trying to say something major about the unique situation of Lucy, or if she wanted to say something about communication, or human-monkey friendships or how tricky identifying paint color cards can be when you’re put on the spot. But, if you wanted to think more deeply about it, there’s enough meat there to do it.

The one-on-one play with audience member as main character and in such a compact time period was fully compelling. The piece worked because of the immersive experience of the audience member. I’ve never tried to embody an animal, but there was something about this experience that allowed me to embrace the role of chimpanzee. It brought me to a completely new place. I loved that Cricket was not a stranger, but a caregiver and friend, which was freeing. I instantly felt bonded to her. Make Yourself at Home was challenging, thought-provoking and visceral. An excellent theater experience.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  I can see how a set up like this could fall flat, but this was round and juicy. Make Yourself at Home ran at Annex Theater from Feb. 19 to 22, so if you didn’t see it you’ll have to wait for the next show. I know I’m looking forward to what else Annex Theater has lined up this year – especially in its Knee Play Series.

Contact Styx at:  riverstyxemail@gmail.com.

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