Rob Downs as King Kong and Kalinda Gray as Ann Darrow in Maverick Theater's "King Kong" / Photo by Jessica Peralta
King Kong piercing the forests of Skull Island and claiming a helpless and screaming Ann Darrow is one of the most thrilling moments in movie history. Served up live on stage at Maverick Theater — even with a bit of cheese — is an irresistible thrill all its own.
The Maverick’s latest production, a revival of its 2019 show, is a Kong with a bit more dimension and more humor than before. With about ten percent new material, this run feels more fully evolved, with each high point higher and more enriched.
Leading the cast is Kalinda Gray as Darrow and Paul Zelhart as exploitative movie producer Carl Denham, who return to their 2019 roles with zeal, and some new room to breath in various moments. Jeff Lowe as Darrow’s love interest Jack Driscoll and Glenn Freeze as Captain Englehorn have an authenticity that lifts their scenes. In fact, Freeze seems almost a doppelgänger for actor Frank Reicher, who originally played the role in the 1933 film. A very nimble and versatile supporting cast of Scott Keister, Donny Van Horn, Joe Saunders, and John Castro all keep things fun and moving.
Kong, inhabited in full gorilla costume by long-time company player Rob Downs, has also been given new leeway, and as a reliable comic performer, he confidently runs with it.
And though it’s hard to explain without giving too much away, the confidence and comfort Downs seems to have is critical as the neck-deep tech of the production must work — even when it doesn’t always, exactly — in order for the play to work at all.
Director Brian Newell’s ingenuity and sense of fun is as on display here as in any production Maverick has ever done. And coming on the heels of its pandemic-delayed and deadly serious production of The Crucible, it’s a reminder of the little theater’s amazing versatility.
With apologies to all those 1930s New Yorkers out there, King Kong has returned triumphant, with tongue pressed firmly in cheek. What a joy it is to watch him go.
Tickets are $10-$28. Maverick Theater is located at 110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton, Calif. COVID protocols are strictly enforced. The limited run ends Sept. 11.