“Cockroach” Infests Monkey Wrench

High school sucks in England too. That is the second thing you might notice in the Monkey Wrench Collective’s production of “Cockroach”.

The first thing you will notice is the tension in the opening scene that makes mimed door pounding sequence seem as real as an episode of “COPS”. It’s exciting to see this kind of avant guard theater being staged right here in Fullerton. Monkey Wrench is able to draw talent from a wide area to this boutique theater and make good use of these skilled actors.

The subject matter is the detention class of unruly kids who have to stay after school for their involvement in the opening sequence; a spat between a teen girl, Leah (Katelyn Gault), and her untrustworthy lover Lee (the talented Alexander Price).

Lee has had an (off-stage) interlude with the lovelorn Mmoma (Kourtni Pollard, who does an impressive Shirley Bassey ditty), who is mate-less due to a dwindling M/F ratio. It all starts with a lovers spat but conditions are made harder by what we are only told is a “just war” and a “great war”.

School teacher “Beth” (Kyra Kiener) guides the unruly class through studies of the female half of the human reproductive system. She carries a walkie-talkie, issues commands, and administers discipline. In some ways she represents, not just authority, but the government. She is preparing the children, in the absence of their real parents and “stepfather”s, for a life of living under institutional dictates. “You need to know this to get a level C answer”, she tells them. Conform or… get “called up”. Nothing on this stage is accidental, including the study subject.

Some people have described this play as feminist but, if it is, it is of the type that has deep meaning also for men. It explores the cause of aggression and wars. Beth wants the students to know how important reproduction is. It is very important to… the state. They always need more young men.

As the play explores the relationships between the burgeoning sexuality of the teens/young adults we become more aware of rationing. Food is scarce for some, as it might be in any high school. An egg sandwich is shared. But soon we see that chocolates are hard to find and have become bargaining chips. First food is rationed, but soon people will be rationed. Boys are scarce.

But what is causing this war? What is causing so many young men to be “called up” and then reported “missing”? The play explores that too. The other couple in the play, Danielle (Adele Heather Taylor) and Davey (Kevin Shewey), meet on-stage and the story follows the arc of their relationship. Danielle responds to Davey’s interest by offering him a piece of her egg sandwich, and then a kiss, but then ends up anesthetizing herself with vodka. However, nothing about this play is cliché.

The motifs and actions are portrayed as clearly as the diagram on the chalk-board, but you don’t run out of questions. Playwright Sam Holcroft investigates issues around man’s relationship to state, reproduction, property, and the origin and survival of the species. She does this through studying fertility, jealousy, and the causes behind burkas and FGM. To her credit, none of these are treated superficially  or with a shallow conclusion.

If you are interested in exciting, thought provoking theater, Monkey Wrench will deliver and is a great cause to support. The cast and crew really know how to pack a lot of theater into a small space.

Spoiler Alert!

The government seemed to let off the hook in this investigation of man’s true nature. Wars are caused, it seems, by the very same forces that cause men to fight over their females.

There are some statistical artifacts that might lead one to believe such a thing, such as the large number of violent crimes that are categorized as domestic violence and involve couples. But what about the vast majority of couples that are not committing crimes against each other? What about the vast expanses  of time when there are no wars? How can it be human nature if so many humans don’t take part?

But it seems that some of the logic comes from evolutionary psychology. There are many references to Darwin. “From a monkey comes me”, says Leah, “But this is today. This is not the savannah. All my friends are dying!”

So the premise is that man’s evil nature is such that we always return to war, which is our natural state. But where did all those uniforms come from? And all those bombers and machine guns? Did the government buy all those tanks because they knew we would want them when fighting over our mates (both genders partake in this activity)?

The play does represent the authority figure of the school disciplining uniformed children to study for standardized tests to prepare them for their standardized lives, all the while assuring them that they will be fighting a “just war” and a “great war”.  But it seems to lay the blame for all the violence at the feet of “human nature”. Are the schoolyard brawls really the best way to protect your mate? And why would people need such indoctrination if they were just conforming to human nature?

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