By David Thompson and John Kander; Directed by Susan Stroman
Produced by Vineyard Theatre
Off Broadway, Dance Play
Runs through 6.17.18
The Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street
by Lexi Orphanos on 5.23.18
Irina Dvorovenko and Tony Yazbeck in The Beast in the Jungle. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: With striking direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, The Beast in the Jungle gives artistic richness to a simple tale of love and anguish.
In this romantic dance play, we meet our protagonist John Marcher in his old age, portrayed by Peter Friedman (Ragtime, Body Awareness, HBO's High Maintenance). He is immediately rendered cynical and calloused, wealthy in all aspects aside from joy. When his nephew (Tony Yazbeck) suddenly arrives reeling from his fresh breakup, John is softened from this Scrooge-like persona and thinks on his own past love. Much to his nephew's surprise, a young John Marcher went on a Dionysian sexual walkabout of Europe in search of "The Great Mystical Fuck." As John begins to relate this story, John Kander's music swells and the lights shift, taking us into a world of memory for the ensuing delightful dance play.
With the story being told mostly through dance, the cast is impeccable. Principal dancers Irina Dvorovenko and Tony Yazbeck move with convincing passion in portraying the love story between May Bertram and the younger Marcher, creating a tangible chemistry that is both unique to their relationship and universal in its simplicity. Both possess obvious star quality and are entrancing with their remarkable skill. The entire ensemble provides the strength and high performative standard for the two principals to ride on, with welcomed comedic bits popping out from the drama, often featuring dance captain Leah Hofmann.
The plot—albeit simple—becomes rich through Susan Stroman's direction and choreography. Much like her previous work on Contact, her theatre flourishes when the backdrop to her complex choreography is kept uncomplicated. However, The Beast in the Jungle is brought to even greater heights through the use of puppetry and expertly designed props employed by the women of the play (Maira Barriga, Elizabeth Dugas, Leah Hofmann, Naomi Kakuk, Brittany Marcin Maschmeyer, and Erin N. Moore). The Beast in the Jungle provides a sure-to-please evening of classically trained artists free of overcomplicated commentary that sucks you into an era of entertainment that, in 2018, is increasingly rare.
(The Beast in the Jungle plays at the Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, through June 17, 2018. The running time is 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7; Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 3 and 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $85 ($120 premium) and are available at vineyardtheatre.org or by calling 212-239-6200.)
The Beast in the Jungle is by David Thompson, based on the novella by Henry James. Music by John Kander. Directed and Choreographed by Susan Stroman. Music Direction by Greg Jarrett. Scenic and Costume Design by Michael Curry. Lighting Design by Ben Stanton. Sound Design by Peter Hylenski. Wig, Hair and Make-up Design by Dave Bova. Dialect Coach is Stephen Gabis. Music Arrangements by Sam Davis. Orchestrations by Greg Anthony Rassen and Sam Davis. Associate Director/Choreographer is Eric Santagata. Production Stage Manager is Johnny Milani.
The cast is Maira Barriga, Teagle F. Bougere, Elizabeth Dugas, Irina Dvorovenko, Sara Esty, Peter Friedman, Leah Hofmann, Naomi Kakuk, Brittany Marcin Maschmeyer, Erin N. Moore, Clifton Samuels, and Tony Yazbeck.