Performing Arts: Theater
January 25, 2023
Presented at La Mama as part of The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild is a compelling story about brotherly love and a raucously good time. Directed by Seth Bockly and set to live music by Moneka Arabic Jazz, the two-man tour-de-force weaves ancient Sumerian mythology with contemporary humor and politics.

The set, designed by Lorenzo Savoini, fills La Mama’s brick-walled downstairs theater with handsome wooden furniture, lush plants, and the warm glow of exposed Edison bulbs, as sharp lines of light mark out the actor’s playing space downstage of the five-piece band.

Both Jesse LaVercombe and Ahmed Moneka shine as their characters strike up unlikely friendships in a Toronto cafe and ancient Mesopotamia. LaVercombe takes up the mantle of Enkidu, a creature of the forest who is transformed into a man in order to challenge the reign of Moneka’s tyrannical Gilgamesh. But after the two great warriors fight for days on end, they abandon their conflict in favor of brotherhood, where each brings out the best in the other.

In a modern day parallel to the legendary duo’s adventures, newfound friends Jesse and Ahmed—who share their first names with their performers—bond over the fact that neither is native to Toronto and chat the evening away by sharing details of their lives while tripping on a magic mushroom.

As the show progresses the lines between the characters begin to blur: Ahmed rushes through the streets of Toronto to attend the birth of his child narrated with mythical pazazz. Gilgamesh and Jesse contemplate where to go and what to do next while standing side by side on the shore of the Mediterranean sea.

The crystal-clear staging and choreography makes the transitions between characters and times seem effortless, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the oceanic depths of the beautiful and fraught relationships that drive the story forward. While much of the story is uplifting, a thread of tragedy runs beneath much of the play as Enkidu grapples with the fact that he has lost the wild place where he was born as both he and the world have changed too much to ever return to the way things once were.

Closing out the evening with a joyous concert from Moneka Arabic Jazz King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild cements itself as a testament to the joyous community of artists who came together to make it possible to tell a hopeful story about finding companionship across difference; a worthy pursuit indeed.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele

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