Members of the Estonian Society of Central Florida (Kesk Florida Eesti Selts) celebrated a special week from March 12 to 17, 2014, with Estonian musician/writer/tv personality/talk show host and now playwright Mihkel Raud who was in St. Petersburg, Florida, for the international premiere of his play American Monkey.
Members of the local Estonian community rolled out their own version of a red carpet to welcome Mihkel and Liina Raud and daughter Mirjam to the community. A dinner party was hosted by Estonian Honorary Consul Lisa Mets and her husband Erkki Taada the evening the Rauds arrived. On Thursday, Mihkel Raud was a distinguished guest speaker in the Introduction to Acting Class taught by Professor Antonia Krueger at Eckerd College. On Saturday, following a “talk-back” at the theatre, an opening night after-party was hosted by Tõnu Toomepuu, President of the Estonian Society of Central Florida, and his wife Robin, at their home.
On Saturday night, March 15, 2014, Mihkel Raud’s “American Monkey” opened to a sold-out theatre. Mihkel Raud beamed with joy to see the production rewarded by the audience with a standing ovation. The play received support from the Estonian Ministry of Culture through its program “Estonian Culture in the World.”
Reality television in all its varieties seems fueled by the viewing audience’s thirst for acts of humiliation. When will it stop? Likely not until we take our eyes off the screen and take time to examine ourselves. “American Monkey” forces us to do just that. In 90 minutes in the theatre. For the rest of the night at home.
“American Monkey” turns the table on the usual scheme in reality television talent shows, characterized in this play as a modern version of Rome’s Colosseum. The play begins innocently enough like any other TV talent show but soon contestant Fred takes charge. It turns out he has a more personal motive in mind when he comes to his audition. He isn’t there to convince the judges to advance him to the next round; he’s there to get even. In any other play, the audience would serve as passive spectators to the scenes; in this play, we can’t watch without becoming drawn in ourselves. This is a dark comedy; we feel uncomfortable; we’re grateful for moments that give us permission to laugh. We’re complicit in the horror; in fact, we’re given a chance to vote. The moral dilemmas we watch the characters face are ones we should be facing ourselves.
The freeFall Theatre is known for taking risks and producing edgy plays and this is its first international premiere. Fabulously talented actors Patrick Ryan Sullivan, Stefanie Clouse and John Lombardi were archetypical judges completely convincing in their roles. Chris Jackson as Fred earned a well deserved ovation.
The theatre’s award-winning director Eric Davis learned about the play from Broadway producer Sharon Carr and decided to bring the play to this highly respected playhouse in Florida. Industry readings of the play were held in September 2013 at New York City’s Primary Stages Rehearsal Space. Rewrites continued in St. Petersburg with contributions by director Eric Davis and playwright Natalie Symons.
After the play closes in St. Petersburg, what’s next? I would love to see this play picked up by college theatre programs around the country—places with auditoriums where audiences cross generations.
A preview of the play was published March 10, 2014 and a review was published March 17, 2014, in the Tampa Bay Times by performing arts critic Stephanie Hayes (tampabay.com).
The freeFall Theatre, located at 6099 Central Avenue, in St. Petersburg, Florida, is staging Mihkel Raud’s American Monkey from March 14 to March 30, 2014. For the run of the show we have arranged discounted ticket sales. To purchase tickets, please call freeFall Theatre at 727.498.5205 and let them know you are part of the “Estonia” group.