Ape-Man Seen At Local Theatre!

by Darren Callahan

Charley Jordan as Davy

Charley Jordan as Davy

“I went to the zoo!” exclaims Charley Jordan, one of the stars of Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s production of Bryce Wissel’s science fiction comedy Ephemera. That is not the usual bit of method-acting research one might declare in an interview, but in this case it very much applies. Jordan plays Davy, an ape so evolved that now he has nearly become a man. How did this happen, you ask? Davy was the first chimp shot into space and, when the play begins, his arrival on the space station ‘Ephemera,’ where the crew battles isolation and their own unusual dynamics, kicks things off in style. “I don’t run around on all fours,” Jordan clarifies, “and it’d be pretty difficult to be hunched over the whole show, but I did learn one thing from the zoo: it’s all butt and gut.”

Jordan’s first full-on comedy, Ephemera offered many new challenges to the actor, well-regarded for his roles in Polarity’s past productions, such as the more classical Polonius in Hamlet. Not having a haircut for six months before opening, keeping a hard mandate on no shaving, he acknowledges this is the most physical change he has undergone. As Jordan does not nearly have the genetics of, say, Robin Williams, additional hair will be added to his arms and hands and lower legs, and he will also wear a helmet that will augment the effect. “I might shave my moustache, too,” he winks, “just to be even more primate.”

For this significant costuming and other challenges, two full weeks of technical rehearsal were scheduled. With the high-number of sound and lighting effects to fulfill a modern audience’s expectations of science fiction, the rehearsals offer a great opportunity to master the tricky costumes. Kaelan Strouse (as mariachi-signing robot Manuel) and Jordan have their work cut out for them. They’re like the drummer and synthesizer player of a rock band – the first to arrive, the last to leave – as they have the greatest burden of equipment.

When asked if director Laura Sturm (director of Polarity’s past production The Rivals and star of their A Streetcar Named Desire) ever asks him, “Can you do that scene or line ‘less ape?’” Jordan laughs. “No, Laura’s more interested in keeping the character true.” An example of that is that this ape-man is in L-O-V-E. And, being in love, you would think his approach to his woman of choice might be rude and nasty. He is, after all, part-animal. “That’s the sort of thing Laura is helpful with – not trying to play a womanizing drunken monkey, but to go deeper than that.”

Helping in his research was a set of materials prepared by the show’s dramaturg, Sarah Grant. A lengthy history on the space program, and the role chimps played, starting in 1949, gave Jordan the start of a backstory quite different from a human one, but adaptable nonetheless. The materials went all the way through the expected privatization of the NASA program, as corporations are becoming more capable of sustaining the high cost of space exploration, much more so than the U.S. Government.

To make things even more difficult for Jordan, the play is full of rewinds and fast-forwards, with repeating scenes from different angles. Sturm orchestrates the precision of each actor so that the mix-up has a consistency in everything from blocking actor’s positions to facial expressions. Jordan appreciates this attention to detail and knows that, if it were just him to remember, he’d be lost. With the help of the entire cast and crew, actors literally fall into place, to the point where the last resting place of a space helmet can be the deciding factor between good ape and bad ape. (Did you catch the Planet of the Apes joke there?)

Ephemera runs through May 1, directed by ensemble member Laura Sturm, featuring a “site-specific installation” by Chicago multi-medium artist lewis lain. Polarity Ensemble Theatre is in residence at Wicker Park’s Josephinum Academy. The theater is located at the 1500 N. Bell Street entrance. Tickets are $19 general admission. Senior discount tickets (age 65 and older) are $15, and student discount tickets are $10 with valid ID. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Purchase tickets at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/157008 or call the box office at 800-838-3006. For more information visit http://www.petheatre.com/ephemera.html

Comments are closed.