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Politics and Monkeys

Theatre Gigante Revives Mark Anderson’s ‘Quorum’

Oct. 4, 2016
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The circumstances by which seven strangers arrive separately at what looks like a meeting room are irrelevant in Mark Anderson’s comedy Quorum. What matters is the developing group dynamic. There’s no agenda other than to organize. The question of the organization’s purpose can wait until leadership is established and methods for decision-making are in place. When human beings of any bent are sharing space, rules and a power structure, it seems, are essential.

Anderson wrote Quorum for Theatre X, the experimental theater collective of which I was a member. I recall the show with great affection. It was Anderson’s sixth collaboration with our company. He directed the 1993 premiere at our performance space, now the Studio Theatre of the Broadway Theatre Center. I played Sammy, a mild-mannered fellow of few words who made his presence felt through facial expressions and gestures. It was heaven to play—intuitive, offbeat, performer/playwright Anderson at his best.

Anderson will play Sammy himself in Theatre Gigante’s revival of Quorum at Plymouth Church. Isabelle Kralj, his co-artistic director in Theatre Gigante, will play the voluble Vivian who sees herself as the obvious choice for group president. Leslie Fitzwater, Ron Scot Fry, Bo Johnson, Jocelyn Ridgely and Michael Stebbins are the excellent actors who’ll embody the rest of this embryonic society, folks at once ordinary and mysterious, variably cooperative and obstructionist, always vulnerable.

Anderson began the writing in the midst of the ’92 presidential election in which Bill Clinton bested Bush Sr. Inspired by a television documentary on the social behavior of monkeys, he haunted the zoo’s Monkey Island observing the creatures’ interactions. He read Robert’s Rules of Order and pictured the Theatre X actors in monkey relationships trying to follow the rules. 

“It was a playground in my head,” he told me. “I was just thinking about what people are capable or incapable of in terms of cooperating. We did a reading at Grinnell College and one of the faculty members told me I’d deconstructed evolution.”

Why revive it now? “We’re so pained by the current political situation,” Kralj said. “So to revisit the seeds of human political behavior from a cosmic perspective is something we need right now and we thought maybe an audience could use that, too.” 

Oct. 7-15 at Plymouth Church, 2717 E Hampshire St. A 2 p.m. matinée on Sunday, Oct. 9 includes a talkback; other shows start at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13 is pay-what-you-can. For tickets, call 414-961-6119 or visit gigantequorum.brownpapertickets.com.

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