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Going ape: ‘Making of King Kong’ goes behind the scenes

Monkey business: “The Making of King Kong,” opening in Sunset Park on Dec. 2, uses several stages to tell the story of the classic monster movie.
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Talk about gorilla theater!

A new play turns a modern lens on the classic monster movie “King Kong,” creating a bananas behind-the-scenes story for the 1933 flick about an enormous ape in New York City. “The Making of King Kong” opening at Target Margin Theater’s the Doxsee on Dec. 2, highlights the original film’s awkward treatment of race, gender, and colonialism — issues that have persisted through its many retellings over the years, including the current Broadway iteration, according to the play’s writer.

“ ‘King Kong’ is both an amazing and deeply problematic story,” said Lisa Clair. “In 1933, culturally it made sense, but the story keeps being told without addressing that it’s about white people traveling to capture a big black monster and bringing it back to America.”

Clair’s play monkeys around with time and space, melding the lives of the actors and directors of “King Kong” with its fictional narrative, according to the playwright.

“The original ‘King Kong’ is already about a movie being made, so I was like, let me just remove the characters and put the actors in the story,” she said.

The play comes to life in the large Sunset Park warehouse space of the Doxsee, where the audience will travel from a fictional box office into a room featuring a tiny toy theater and a selfie station, followed by a move to a classic theater space, which becomes a movie soundstage and then Kong’s native Skull Island.

“The space keeps opening up and expanding,” said Clair.

Highlighting the original movie’s issues has also led to some bitingly hilarious twists, said Clair. She struggled to include the native Skull Islanders, for instance, which were portrayed in the original film by black actors wearing blackface and monkey-like costumes.

“I decided to replace the islanders with white ladies on a yoga retreat, played by three women of color,” she said, but then her director noted that the move erased characters of color from the play — so she turned that conflict into part of the story.

“The white ladies talk about how they had to replace the problematic natives,” she said.

The play’s namesake gorilla will also make an appearance, but it’s not a simple case of monkey see, monkey do. The audience will not see a 2,000-pound puppet, as in the Broadway performance, but Clair declined to reveal the exact appearance of the great ape.

“You won’t see him per se, you won’t see a fully embodied gorilla — but you will hear him, you will sense him, you will feel him,” she said.

“The Making of King Kong” at Target Margin’s the Doxsee [232 52nd St. between Second and Third avenues in Sunset Park, (718) 398–3095, www.targetmargin.org]. Opens Dec. 2 at 5 pm; then Dec. 6–15, Wed–Sat at 7:30 pm, Sun at 5 pm. $20.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Posted 12:00 am, November 29, 2018
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