The zoomorphic production
It was culminating into Charlie Wirthing's first and final foray into the realm of experimental theatre. The siamang were carousing in the echelons of the mezzanine, the orang-utan was refusing to communicate via semaphore through both hand-signing and coordinated clapping, the slow loris was fast trying her patience, and the crab-eating macaques had somehow secured access to the definitive seafood buffet.
When Charlie contemplated—exasperated, and for the sixty-fourth time that day—her intimate motivations for originally staging her somewhat indulgent playscript, she could discern no finite rhyme nor defensible reason within the thrall of subtropical madness why it had to be the forested wilds of Thailand that she chose to host the premiere!—None save but her deep-seeded and mutual enmity for Fangor Rhys Danzig of Rusland, who fancied himself a golden champion of the jungle from out of the true turmoil of a Sir Conan Doyle paperback, all done up in khaki, jodhpurs, bandoliers and pith, and imagined with the nineteenth-century artifice of a twenty-first century git.
Charlie was vehement and sure that she'd meant well, nonetheless—that much she would later claim to all those who cherished her impulse and ambition as elements describing her personal virtue—and for those who harboured a palpable affection for Charlie in spite of these long-held traits of fascinated self-improvement, Charlie was doubly sure that what she'd gambled on was forgivable, given enough time and enough alcohol was provided, by her, to salve the balm of distance into the wound of dismal experience.
She could already predict what her younger brother might intone to her, or her step-father, or even her best friend and ex-lover, if she was ever to return to Australia, once the roar of journalistic defamation had subsided after eclipsing the promise of her anthropological research: the men in Charlie's life might impart all the supportive and superlative advice they could muster, in their each individual kindly manner, but they would all come to gloat, "I told you spending two years in the rainforest would be cause for deprived sanity", and she would have to admit to each cultivated and lordly bastard that they were, in fact, right, and could she sleep on their futon before the Thai governmental department for science and arts left her destitute by asking her to return her research grant in full?
This is what came of being custodian of the monkeyhouse, Charlie supposed. It was easy to misinterpret your subjects for your research partners, sometimes, particularly when each creature had, with much beating of the chest, agreed to collectively contribute to her research by insisting upon their own bombastic involvement. And it was difficult to turn someone down, when their mode of persuasion was dispatching a banana at your head.
She could see now, with the agency of foresight, that devising a deal with beings lacking in the necessary currency of opposable thumbs had stigmatised this evening as ever being a precarious—scratch that—a prehensile affair. She only hoped, as she cowered, sunken and dreamless, in the annexe of the staged wing, that the assembled audience would be too enamoured of the savage and enthralling ambience (the mosquitoes were the size of small children, and as remarkably swift as oysters through a digestive tract) to truly acquire a sense of the accelerating backstage chaos, least of all associate the deep, earthen, resounding cries of the howler monkey with the disappearance of a magnum of procured lager.
Charlie Wirthing steeled herself for the abominable inevitable, and padded out to the centre crosshatch on her makeshift stage, head awash with equal parts somnambulist-detachment and victim-horror.
Seated amongst the fronds and bromeliads, Fangor was hunched in the second-row before the proscenium's orchestra pit, slapping irritably at an occasional fruit-fly while dragging pensively on the end of an immaculate Russian tea-cigarette. He still had yet to remove his pith helmet. Someone young, of diminished patience, and newly hormonal was crying behind him, and asking their mother to inform the man with the godless moustache to remove his spiny helmet. Charlie folded her hands at her navel, attempted to remember the concluding line of "I Am the Very Model of A Modern Major General", and cleared her throat. Almost all mouths belonging to those individuals seated within the immediate three rows opened, revealing querulous and anticipatory smiles.
Charlie's urgent preference for non-human primates as company obscured the fullness of her purpose. She stood on rostrum, eyes squinting, her breasts becoming alarmingly apparent beneath the sodium cascade of the stage-positioned gaslight. She cleared her throat again, and someone as tiny as a winter freckle sputtered something coarse and compromising, from beyond the gallows of the wings. Charlie Wirthing summoned up her most dramatic display of scorn, and revealed the sneer. Penises withered with immediacy.
'When I was a young girl, I often wondered how someone named Oscar Wilde was liable to find time to write, swinging from vine to undergrowth.' There was a peal of polite laughter, though it unwound round the stage while stinking of the unripened pall of Charlie's winning lemon. She continued on with valour, 'Seriously, though, I composed the following playscript over the past two years, because I was inspired by research I'd facilitated and obtained through studying the peculiarities and enthusiasms of a troop of Thai primates within the wild, all of whom demonstrated an invested affection for radio drama by play-acting scenes from Beckett, Noel Coward and Ionesco when parading through the canopy. Never before had I encountered such soulful theatre enthusiasts incapable of bathing themselves, except for one time making the Edinburgh circuit amongst the company of a tweedy Welshman. Of course, I'm only kidding.'
Charlie felt her left foot begin to numb up, which she took as an indication to switch tack, and get down to brass taxes. 'Tallulah Bankhead said famously of Noel Coward's Private Lives, "We've played this show everywhere except underwater". Now, albeit members of my dramatis personae are yet to encounter the bounty of an oceanic dip, they are all willing to engage their thespian ardour in depicting to you a heartily memorable tragedy, concerning family bloodshed, patricide, incest and war. I assure you, correspondingly, that this is a play unwritten by their hirsute hands.' The laughter was moronic, like people snorting unceremoniously at a wake. 'Without further ado, I present to you Donvolio, The Mongoose of Capris. And forgive the stock shortage of peanuts. We're paying our actors in them, you know.'
Charlie exited the stage, feeling loathsome and adequately dirty.
Behind the curtains of the stage the pirouetting snarl of Sundra colugo were busy engineering some semblance of arboreal eyrie from their individual script pages, and resting on the hemispherical lip of the ash-tray where Charlie had remaindered her cigarette so as to introduce the show was now something resembling a segment of hosepipe—having been crafted from an innovative media of saliva, dung, and cruel will.
Charlie swiftly craved redemption, sudden and alarming, presented in the context of a hot-air balloon out of this pandanus-strewn mire, but if she had to reduce the panorama of her emancipatory ambition, she might simply compromise in asking for some mean-spirited element capable of being consumed and liable to steel the most chronic of bowing nerves— such as a smoke, or a nip of gin, or a horse tranquiliser, or a bucket of seawater and a colonic jalapeno injection.
Of course, Charlie Wirthing would not think in detail about the consequences of the words streaming through the roaring fount of her, but merely threaten, with ambivalent disdain, in her own bumptious mind, and cringe when the self-directed threat proved either too graphic or promising.
'What's the big idea?' she brassily sounded, incanting the best of all existential inquiries not as a reproach, but as a way to provoke laughter in the Phi Phi squirrel monkeys.
Her well-rationed word was interpreted as a scintillant wiseguy punchline, incandescent and uproarious and berserk, because the squirrels shrieked and rattled, inhaling harshly, some even choking for air, and one particular stately burgundy male found Charlie's seminal witticism demonstrated such legendary artifice that he felt it necessitated hitting himself, eleven times, in the face. She was wild and a gas, was Charlie Wirthing, knew the monkeys. She was as funny as wine for breakfast.
'Where's our leading man?' She demanded, as stony as a taxidermist's eyes. 'He should be on stage right now.'
The squirrel monkeys found her unimaginable, irrevocable, mythically amusing. Charlie Wirthing was riotous.
One of them extended a questing hand, so small, as little as a bet with a twice-proven scoundrel. She accepted the simian gesture with supreme simplicity, doggedly sighting down the index finger of the monkey to her cowering quarry.
The richesse of squirrel monkeys all collectively sprouted fanning, implicating arms then, and indicated the solitary mandrill tented beneath an upturned newspaper. Charlie strode annihilatively toward her mournful leading male.
The mandrill gambled with a sickly, plangent cry.
'Cut the shit, Percival, you know your lines. Now, out! The audience is restless and low on savouries.'
The squirrel monkeys erupted as of a rifle into peals of rapid-fire laughter. Their cannonade was airborne for Charlie. That woman was hysterical.
Never before could Charlie claim that she'd resolutely satisfied so many people simultaneously, bar one problematic and beer-soaked moment in her second year of college, but even then she'd failed to enjoy or mutually experience the flesh-bound benefits, anyway, so such a substandard experiment did not deem being invoked for comparison.
This time, however, people everywhere appeared to be gleaming golden, championing and validating her aptitudes and swinging sense of style, and no-one save Fangor could be perceived to disregard, belittle or begrudge her cultured success, and that was his permissable prerogative, besides, because he appeared to need someone to pull and paw at his moustache over.
Charlie's favourite, most intimate and instructive scene from Donvolio had proven perfect in its transition to stage:
Sc. 1. Int. Night: Sometime before dusk. "Heart of Darkness" Bed, Breakfast, and Vacance Chateau. Sc. 1.
The room is a commodious hotel suite, illuminated by a most-feeble solitary oval-arched skylight, used to accommodate a deathly trickle of moonlight which bleeds and pools into the furthermost corners of this domain. Percival, portraying BARFLY MESQUITE, a lowdown jazz journalist hard on his luck, erupts into the hotel suite from out of the corridor in tattered suede overcoat and with an especially weedy cigarette being enchanted upon between a stern, studious jaw. (The audience laughs, and Percival's appearance is welcome to a few gratuitous hoots.) Behind Barfly Mesquite follows MAGGIE MACKLEWAITHE, enacted here by Charlie Wirthing, in champagne dress as sinful as an adulterous exchange and just as classic, who swings and swoons about the interior of the room, insisting that her swansong be heeded. Maggie dashes herself into the surface of their large, dire and threadbare bed. She sobs uncontrollably and drums her fists into the pillows. (Some confused laughter scatters like an ambivalent Chinese whisper through the higher legions of the audience.)
Maggie Macklewaithe: I can't go on like this, as the two-bit whore with a silvering hairline falling to ruin with dishevelled glamour, while her husband runs amok like the most gutless and capricious of born-again Soviet drunks in a throe of penury and failing memory! Barfly, take me out of this hellhole! Gather me into your arms and hold me as you once did, so historically, so hellaciously, and place the sickly fire of my mouth into the hearth of yours!
Barfly Mesquite: Don't bother me now, I'm trying to ransack this place for the right change to gather a bottle of plonk into my arms.
(The audience bursts apart in a pyrotechnic volley of appreciative laughter. It resembles the dry chafing sound of fireworks.)
Maggie Macklewaithe: I've some change remaining.
Barfly extends an open embrace toward Maggie. Curtain falls.
People ask Charlie how she was able to persuade the monkeys to best the sceptics and theatrically rise to the occasion.
She says, reflecting upon the prosperity of her project: 'I'd claim that the politics of show business would surely be involved somewhere, but I feel the discipline of science is more to blame: Dr Doolittle and Dr Zaius.'
There's usually a misguided moment that follows where Charlie feels an epigram is needed, an insipid pun correlating the word "troop" with "troupe" perhaps, but it doesn't take long for her to think better of it. She's not a woman to pander to the lower branches, Charlie decides. The higher the canopy, the more fearless the theatre.
Kirk Marshall is an award-winning Australian writer, and teacher of Creative Writing, English Literature and Media (Film & T.V. Studies) at RMIT University. He has written for more than eighty publications, both in Australia and overseas, including Word Riot (U.S.A.), 3:AM Magazine (France), Le Zaporogue (France/Denmark), (Short) Fiction Collective (U.S.A.), The Vein (U.S.A.), Danse Macabre (U.S.A.), WHOLE BEAST RAG (U.S.A.), The Seahorse Rodeo Folk Review (U.S.A.), The Journal of Unlikely Entomology (U.S.A.) and Kizuna: Fiction for Japan (Japan). He edits Red Leaves, the English-language / Japanese bi-lingual literary journal. He now suffers migraines in two languages.