With her customary sure hand, veteran novelist Prose (Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, 2014, etc.) trains various points of view on the shabby dramatization of a popular children’s book.
Mister Monkey, as summarized in the prologue, is the simplistic, bestselling tale of an orphaned African chimp adopted by an affluent Manhattan family, unjustly accused by the widowed father’s scheming girlfriend, and saved by the lawyer Portia, who (of course) turns out to be Dad’s new love. The even tackier musical version is first seen through the weary eyes of Margot, the middle-aged actress playing Portia and valiantly applying her Yale Drama–honed technique to a tawdry production whose pubescent star, Adam, has started using Mister Monkey’s interactions with the lawyer as an excuse to hump Margot onstage. Moving into Adam’s consciousness, Prose makes poignantly manifest the family issues that prompted his bad behavior, and she elicits similar empathy for the damaged characters who serially pick up the narrative from there: a grieving widower and his grandson Edward in the audience; Edward’s kindergarten teacher, who winds up on a disastrous blind date at a restaurant seated next to Mister Monkey’s author; the waiter Mario, also lonely and bereaved, who provides the novel’s hopeful final development based on totally false premises. Prose hilariously nails the down-at-the-heels milieu—poor Margot is stuck in a ridiculous wig and hideous costume mandated by the pretentious director—while also evoking the magic even low-rent theater can inspire in the narratives of the show’s costume designer (an underpaid NYU grad student), the moonlighting emergency room nurse who plays the villainess, and the director, whose closing monologue reveals someone much kinder than his prior treatment of Margot suggested.
Wickedly funny and sharply observant, in the author’s vintage manner, with a warmth that softens the satire just enough.