(photo credit: Austin Bauman)
Written by Patrick Chavis
You’ve seen the giant monster ape, King Kong, on the big screen. You’ve seen him fight the King of Monsters, Godzilla, but you’ve never seen The Eighth Wonder of the World like this on the big screen and stage simultaneously. The Maverick Theatre puts on its third production of this original adapted production of King Kong, continuing to innovate on its experimental blend of cinematic and theatrical style. The Maverick, for years, has been carving out its own lane in the SoCal theatre world, and Kong, without a doubt, is King at the moment.
King Kong is about a crew of adventurers led by Director Carl Denham, played by Paul Zelhart, going on a quest to capture the mythical creature known as Kong on film. Will the brave crew be able to capture the Eighth Wonder of the World on film? Or did the crew make a terrible mistake coming in the first place?
King Kong is early Hollywood. The idea and the original movie from which this takes inspiration have been around since the 1930s. It’s the precursor of monster films such as Godzilla and later the Steven Spielberg classic Jurassic Park. While Maverick’s version doesn’t veer too far off from the source material, it adds campiness and comedy into the mix, which makes a big (pun-intended) difference. Modern audiences are so desensitized now. What used to be shocking or scary when King Kong first came out wouldn’t make current viewers bat an eye. This modern, more aware, and comical approach lets you explore the material in a fresh way, but it also highlights the silliness of Golden Age Thinking.
I had the opportunity to see the first production of this show in 2019. This production retained much of the original crew with a few changes to the line-up. The actors have had time to settle in with these characters, and it shows. Overall, the performances from the cast are much stronger this time around.
Using digital magic — green screen technology and digital projection — to tell the story alongside live action brings a new and exciting aspect to the stage. Even the fumbles seem like they’re part of the show.
The show seemed to fly by without a single dull moment. It’s a love letter to old Hollywood and those who love those films.
The top three billed actors in this show, Paul Zelhart, who plays Carl Denham, Kalinda Gray’s Ann Darrow, and Jeff Lowes’s performance as Jack Driscoll, highlight their understanding of the text and the unique acting mannerism that were a product of the time.
JACK: Say, I guess I love you.
ANN: Why, Jack! You hate women!
JACK: Yeah, I know. But you aren’t women. (King Kong 1933)