Story: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, those intrepid simians who revel in lampooning all that is sacred, profound or hopelessly inept, this time offer their take on iconic host Rod Serling and what is perhaps TV’s greatest science-fiction series of all time (well, second to The X Files, anyway), The Twilight Zone.
The manic monkeys present their own versions of two of The Twilight Zone’s most famous tales, To Serve Man and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, as well as their spin on TV’s Superfriends animated series, in which good guys such as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman take on dastardly villains like Lex Luthor, Solomon Grundy and Giganta.
In To Serve Man, nervous Earthlings are put at ease when a towering alien creature reveals that he and his cohorts from another planet have arrived on Earth to rid the planet of famine, pestilence and disease. It all sounds really great, but you know what they say about something that seems too good to be true, right?
Good old, stalwart Bob is the protagonist in Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. He’s just been released from a hospital after having a nervous breakdown, and now he just wants to fly home with his wife. Trouble is, Bob is the only passenger aboard the aircraft who notices a menacing gremlin wreaking havoc on an engine while cavorting on one of the plane’s wings. Has Bob suffered a relapse, or is this wild and crazy fear justified?
Highlights: I’m not sure, but this particular parody might play better with oldsters who actually grew up watching The Twilight Zone on CBS-TV in the early 1960s, while the Superfriends segment, The Time Trap, may appeal more to Millennials.
In any event, it’s great fun to read Twilight Zone trivia shown on one of the theater walls prior to the performance. Much of the efforts of director Laura Enstall’s troupe are worth a chuckle and more in the three short vignettes that actually play out in less than 60 minutes, keeping our ever shortening attention spans properly focused within that tiny time frame.
Other Info: Personally, I’d prefer to see three Twilight Zone episodes in a show titled The One-Hour Twilight Zone: Live!, (the Billy Mumy, 'cornfields' episode would be ideal), and leave the Superfriends for another Monkey outing. The latter seems overly goofy even for the legendary Monkey hijinks, although Linda Lawson-Mixon’s campy, cheesy set design is put to good use in this comic caper.
The two Twilight Zone stories, though, offer more food for subtler thought, even if both have their share of wacky asides. If you listen closely enough, you’ll find references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Airplane!, Lost and other cultural phenomena.
Assistant director James Enstall does a credible Rod Serling, although he can’t quite match the deliciously inspired program cover designed by Bob Singleton that include Serling’s patented near-sneer of a twisted smile.
Jaysen Cryer is a hoot as the Lloyd Bochner character in To Serve Man. He's assigned to translate a book brought by the giant alien, but learns what it really means just a bit too late as he’s shipped off to another planet. Betsy Bowman is his earnest pal Patty, who delivers most unfortunate news, while Ian Hardin suitably mugs it up as Kanamit, the alien sending out bad vibes. Scott Myers looks suitably clueless as the befuddled U.N. Secretary General.
Hardin returns in Nightmare at 20,000 Feet as the damaged goods known as Bob. Suki Peters is delightfully wacky as his pill-popping wife, who yearns to get ‘high.’ Bowman returns as a stewardess most willing to accommodate handsome passengers such as the genial Maxwell Knocke, quizzical Michael Pierce and amiable Alex Ringhausen. Jaiymz Hawkins has too much fun as the campy, kitschy gremlin out to ruin Bob’s welcome-home party.
The best part of The Time Trap, Superfriends segment is admiring the dowdy costumes adorning Superman (Knocke) and Batman (James Enstall) as they battle sundry bad guys along with the jive-talking Robin (Pierce). Peters is a daffy Wonder Woman as well as a galumphing Gorilla Grodd, Bowman is the feisty Hawkgirl and the glowering Giganta, and Cryer is the nefarious Lex Luthor as well as an un-PC Apache chief.
Hardin is a slow-witted Green Lantern, Ringhausen plays a flip Aquaman and Hawkins doubles as The Flash and Captain Cold. Can’t keep the players straight without a scorecard, and even then it all gets confusing.
Laura Enstall admirably directs this chaotic cadre of players, with sound furnished by Josh Cook, lighting by Jaime Zayas and the amusing costumes provided by designer Katie Donovan. Singleton’s motion graphics add to the fun.
Even for Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, The One-Hour Twilight Zone: Live! is a bit disjointed. Still, who can resist reading Twilight Zone trivia on the wall?
Play: The One-Hour Twilight Zone: Live!
Group: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
Venue: Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Blvd.
Dates: May 16, 17
Tickets: $10-$15; contact 1-800-838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Kim Carlson