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September 10, 1998: The Year in Review

THEATER REVIEW
The infinite monkeys have lost their touch

HFE&UIXCJ
at the Huntington Theatre
November 14 through December 20
$20 ($15 for students and seniors)

SteppenChimp, the infinite group of monkeys that 25 years ago delighted audiences with their completely coincidental and spontaneous re-creation of Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" as part of a theoretical experiment, have finally come out with their second play, HFE&UIXCJ, now running at the Huntington Theatre in Boston.

The infinite number of monkeys working on an infinite number of typewriters produced a letter-perfect version of "The Tragedy of Hamlet: Prince of Denmark" back in 1973. Despite the fact that the play had already been written hundreds of years earlier by a William Shakespeare, the new version by SteppenChimp (as they came to be known) sparked new interest in the tragedy, as well as in zoology and how it relates to the nature of the infinite. Theatergoers have been anxiously awaiting their next collaboration, but now, after viewing HFE&UIXCJ, it would appear that the SteppenChimp well has run dry.

Normally, at this point in a review, I would offer the reader a brief synopsis of the plot, but this play was so hard to follow, due to the "spottiness" of the on-again/off-again text, that I am hard-pressed to find one. Needless to say, SteppenChimp took a leap from the strict iambic pentameter form of their first play and dove blindly into a hit-or-miss deconstruction of language reminiscent of Havel or Handke. In this reviewer’s opinion, the monkeys have hit the bottom of an empty pool.

Adam Burke, in the lead role of Ksd@%9f78, had a powerful stage presence but frequently seemed at odds with the text, often barely able to pronounce the alphanumeric lines assigned to him.

The first act held some promise with a pair of powerful scenes between Ksd@%9f78 and his mother, 81!!5tfh9q2 (played by Tricia O’Neill). The highlight of the first half comes with Ksd@%9f78’s cries, "I can’t stay here, Mother! There are things that you’ll never underst094k$fdno41g&fhj-d fjvb8 ..."

Almost all of the touching scenes performed by the talented cast were ruined by the dialogue, including a tragic moment when the mother falls down and breaks her head, the poetically just result of her jumping on the bed.

The role of the Doctor (Joe Almadovar) was a surprisingly enjoyable treat amid this typewriter-banging erratum trying to pass itself off as legitimate theatre. Maybe in Cambridge this sort of neo-babble would play, but it has no place at the Huntington with its proud tradition of shows like "Annie," "Our Town" and "Ubu Roi."

One could blame the shoddiness of the text on the departure of Monkey #6.756271135 x 1025 from the creation team, but since infinity minus one is still infinity, the weakness of the playwriting must fall on the monkeys’ shoulders. Some of the monkeys have gone on to supply curse words for comic strips, while still others provide editorial support to the syndicated Dave Barry column every week.

The Huntington obviously made the conscious choice to go with a name playwright, trying to pique the curiosity of the Boston theatergoer. It was a bad move. Hasn’t August Wilson written something recently?

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