Tuesday, December 1, 2020

"Mondo Tragic" - an audio play from Jungle Theater

The first of Jungle Theater's three-part "Jungle Serial" series was released recently. Mondo Tragic is a 30-minute audio play written and performed by Eric Micha Holmes, with seamlessly integrated sound design by Omar Zubair. It's an intense and mesmerizing exploration of race, racism, and racial identity, that traverses from the Mondo films of the '60s and '70s to Rachel Dolezal. I recommend listening while lying on the floor with your eyes closed to let the sounds, story, and ideas wash over you without any external distractions.

Eric Micha Holmes's voice is hypnotizing as he tells the story of a biracial artist obsessed with Rachel Dolezal, seeing similarities to his own life and experience. She's "a white woman who believed she was black," he's "a black man who never believed he was." Growing up the son of a white woman and an absent Black father, his first experience with Blackness is the exploitive and racist Mondo films depicting "exotic" cultures in Africa. Flash forward to the present, when he decides he must direct the just announced Netflix documentary about Dolezal, and present it as a Mondo film (I'd watch that). He arranges for a meeting with her, and concocts a fantasy of what will happen at the meeting, but what actually does happen is even more surprising and bizarre.

This play blurs the line between fact and fiction, between reality and fantasy, so much so that after I listened I had to do a bit of googling to remind myself what was true. The ending leaves us with a bit of a cliffhanger, and a "tune in for the next episode," but there isn't one. It's really a brilliant use of the medium (it sounds as if it were written as an audio play, instead of being adapted from a staged production), of mixing history, media depictions of race, and fiction to really get at the idea of the social construct we call race, which is so complicated and hard to get at. And it's also fantastic and compelling storytelling.

The package also includes 50 minutes of the Jungle's Interim Artistic Director Christina Baldwin interviewing the playwright, which is as fascinating, illuminating, and thought-provoking as the play itself.

Mondo Tragic and the other two plays of the "Jungle Serial" series are available to stream for $20 for all three (available through January 17), or as part of the fall bundle, which includes the upcoming virtual play Is Edward Snowden Single? Click here for info and to purchase tickets.