Jungle Presents the new series that provides a showcase for shows from out of town continues with another successful production. Last falls Of Pigs and Pianos was one of my favorite touring productions of 2022. The second in the series, King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild is my first night at the theater in 2023, and if it’s any indication of what the rest of the year holds, it’s going to be another great year of theater on the stages of MN. Intertwining the personal with the epic through the use of music and humor to tell the story of two mens friendship. It’s based on the real story of it’s performers and co-creators, Jesse LaVercombe and Ahmed Moneka, that adds an immediacy that is perfectly suited to the Jungle Theaters intimate space.
Ahmed and Jesse play versions of themselves, they meet in a cafe in Toronto, Ahmed is working and living there in exile from Iraq. Jesse, a Minnesota native, whose credits include appearances in the much loved Christmas at Pemberley trilogy, is an actor who is living in Toronto after marrying a Canadian woman. As the show begins they each get a phone call which the other overhears part of. Ahmed learns he has officially become a citizen of Canada. Jesse has learned that he has just seemingly lost his big break in a Hollywood film. Over an evening in the cafe after closing time, they share details about their lives, some music, and a magic mushroom. Throughout they break character and tell the epic ancient tale of Gilgamesh. Ahmed plays the role of Gilgamesh the King of the city of Uruk and Jesse is Enkidu who was transformed from a beast man after two weeks of sex with Shamhat. Gilgamesh and Enkidu become friends and have many adventures together but when Enkido dies, Gilgamesh sets off on a journey to find a fabled plant that will grant him immortality. After that night they go their separate ways but a connection has been forged that they will return to. The show was created by Moneka and LaVercombe along with the Director Seth Bockley, and it incorporates Moneka’s band, Moneka Arabic Jazz, who appear on stage throughout the show.
Moneka and LaVercombe both have an easy going natural presence on stage, their real life friendship translates into an easy give and take and the joy they find in performing together is palpable. Both performers are adept at finding the humor in the line readings and then in the next line finding a moment of dramatic truth. The songs sung, primarily by Moneka, are in Arabic, with LaVercombe, the band, and at the end the audience providing some back up vocals. While we cannot understand the lyrics of what Moneka is singing, we don’t need to know the literal meaning in order to appreciate the beauty in his voice and they style with which he sings. It reminded me of the Jungle Theaters co-production last year with Theater Mu of Cambodian Rock Band. While we don’t understand the lyrics, the music itself it captivating. The band under the musical direction of Demetrios Petsalakis is wonderful playing this unique fusion of Arabic and Jazz.
Seth Bockley stages the show simply, we basically have a table, a few chairs and a piano and a few plants, but it’s really all we need. He has the actors utilize these sparse trappings effectively as they move from present day to Ancient Mesopotamia. The Production Design by Lorenzo Savoini is given strong support by the Lighting Designer Jon Brophy. The lighting really comes into play and is most effectively used during the telling of the the Gilgamesh story. A couple of moments really work well, the use of red as Enkidu slays an opponent and the flashing of the overhead lights in synchronization with Moneka’s actions.
King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild is only here for a short run, with performances ending January 8th. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.jungletheater.org/king-gilgamesh-the-man-of-the-wild
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