Jungal Book: A Review

This year, the spring Theatre 520 class not only put on four separate shows of their innovative production “Jungal Book,” but plan to present their play in the American High School Theatre Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland this August. An adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic children’s tale, “The Jungle Book,” the show dealt with a wide range of complex and mature themes. The audience became a part of the “jungal” from the minute they entered the theatre and had their programs crumpled before being handed to them. Adapted from its original script by theatre instructor Billy Murray, the play takes place in an urban jungle, full of construction sites and jungle gyms. The original script Murray wrote was deemed questionable and vulgar partway through the rehearsal process and had to be rewritten before it could resume. The show opens with many different gangs of animals dancing onto the stage and interacting, giving the audience some idea of the social hierarchy of the jungle. Then, the leader of the wolf pack, Akela, played by Lydia Dallett ’08, adopts the human baby Mowgli, played by Scott Dzialo ’09, into her pack. Many years pass, and Mowgli adapts to his life in the jungle. Convinced the wolf pack would protect him, he simply scoffs when his bear teacher Baloo, played by Lucas McMahon ’08, gives him regular lessons on how to survive the dangers of the jungle. Unfortunately, through a process of flattery and deceit, the antagonist Snerakhan, played by Mide Babatunde ’08, manages to turn the wolf pack against Akela and Mowgli. He murders Akela, Mowgli’s only protector other than the panther and ruler of the forest Bagneera, played by Breet Achin ’08. Mowgli knows he will no longer be safe without Akela to protect him. So he decides to get rid of his worst enemy, Snerakhan. During their final showdown, Mowgli uses a human weapon, a chain, to kill his enemy. Afterwards, Baloo and Bagneera cast Mowgli from the forest for breaking one of the fundamental rules of the jungle. “Jungal Book’s” visual and auditory repertoire was impressive. Dirty, grey-spotted curtains flanked the sides of the stage, while the back wall was covered in graffiti, both scribbled words and phrases and disturbing pictures. One side of the stage was taken up by a tall jungle gym, and the other by monkey bars. At the very back was a large “Mann Trash” garbage disposal bin, also covered in gang graffiti. It was a setting very alien to the green grass and majestic brick buildings of Phillips Academy. The actors’ costumes also contributed a great deal to “Jungal Book.” The wolves immediately came off as the toughest beasts on the streets, with their dark, intimidating clothing, tattoos and studded bracelets. The snakes’ bright, tight-fitting dresses well conveyed their hypnotizing quality to the audience. And Mowgli’s transformation from wolf-man to man-man was marked by a change from gang clothing to a blue collared shirt and khaki shorts. No other recent play utilized as many different musical pieces and other sounds as “Jungal Book.” The music ranged across the board, from hip hop to classical, each genre appropriately representing a different animal gang. The most interesting use of music was when Mowgli sang a few measures in the middle of the show; although well-sung, his solo seemed very out of place. It was definitely a play about trying to find one’s identity. After growing up in a wolf pack, Mowgli didn’t understand what was happening when jungle members started alienating him for being a human being. “What the hell am I? Some piece of man-shit?” Mowgli exclaimed during the performance. Although “Jungal Book” was unquestionably entertaining, the audience, cast and crew were all confused about the message viewers were supposed to get from the show. “We still aren’t sure,” said sound designer Corey Simpson ’08. Indeed, the ending felt more like the end of a scene than the end of the story. Although no entire scenes were cut during Murray’s revision process, several members of the production team admitted that the play made more sense and seemed to have a deeper meaning before the administration told Murray to edit certain language and content. Despite its faults, “Jungal Book” is a show well worthy of representing Phillips Academy in Scotland.