Review: One Monkey Don't Stop No Show
It's a play about the joy of sex - perfect.
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The joy of sex. It’s something we at GT are in little doubt about. It’s a very joyful thing. But for the Harrisons – a middle-class black family, living in suburban 1970s Philadelphia – the thought of prolific fornicating is a major shock to their system. So when The Joy of Sex, a graphically illustrated book, is brought into the household by their sexually agitated teenage son, all havoc breaks loose.
Written by Don Evans, a well-respected 20th Century Afro-American playwright, the play explores the nature of being black in an America not yet at ease with the civil rights progress made in its recent history. The Harrisons live in a plush suburban neighbourhood: the father is a preacher, the son a trainee dentist, and the ark of the family, Mrs Harrison, covered shin to shoulder in modest knitwear. These are not the typical image of an Afro-American family. In fact they take great pride in ‘acting white’: “We have a place in society – and I don’t just mean black society”.
But following the death of her brother, the family find themselves looking after his daughter, Beverley – who has little time for big city stereotypes. Meanwhile their 19 year old son finds romance with a girl from the ‘ghetto’ end of town. All of this is a shock to ultra-aspirational Mrs Harrison, who sees herself well above most black families.
And whilst the next generation of her family is having an identity crisis, her husband is having a sexual epiphany. Mr Harrison has aspirations of his own: to make love on days other than a Thursday. The Joy of Sex, cause of all the sexual angst, is a sort of 70s Fifty Shades of Grey. Albeit with the advantage that it has only pictures – something Fifty Shades could have done with. And it more than catches the men’s attention.
One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show tackles some big political and social issues. You might think, being a play from the 1970s, that issues of oppression, sexuality and race may be well past their use-by date. But in fact the play has aged remarkably well. Whether we should take amusement or discomfort in the fact the issues remain pertinent is a question in itself. But what’s certain is that they do.
This play is belly-laugh funny from start to end. It tackles meaningful issues, without being preachy or self-righteous. And it has a surprisingly attractive variety of topless men, which can only be a good thing.
For tickets, check out The Tricylce Theatre
Words: Benjamin Butterworth