It was much like spending the weekend playing “Where’s Waldo?” except the game was “Where’s the Monkey?”
Too bad I didn’t find the monkeys so cleverly displayed at the plays at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City.
I even had been told where they were ahead of time and still could find only one in the five plays I saw. It was the tiny 1½-inch monkey scooting across the stage on a ship model in “Peter and the Starcatcher.” I missed the second monkey in the play tucked into the fishing net on the right side of the stage. It was 3½ inches tall and placed about 5 feet up.
I blame this monkey obsession on Benjamin Hohman, the imaginative and mischievous properties and display director who has worked for 20 years at the Shakespeare festival. Hohman is tasked with creating stage props on a limited budget. Would you think to create a potbellied stove out of plastic flower pots? Hohman did in “Johnny Guitar.”
In 2011, I attended his Props Seminar, one of the festival freebies designed to share insights into the total theater experience. I had gone to the Greenshow, orientations, costume seminars, backstage tours, actors seminars and morning discussions of the plays at the grove. I enjoyed them all. This year I did the Friday lunch with actors for the first time — $20 well spent.
But the props seminar ended up as one of my favorites, both for the insights and for provoking a challenge to my powers of observation.
That’s when I first learned that since 2001, Hohman had been hiding monkeys in all of the plays, both in the indoor Randall L. Jones Theater and the outdoor Adams Shakespearean Theater.
The backstory began in 2000. The director of “Merchant of Venice” wanted to end the show with Shylock’s daughter Jessica dancing with a small, radio-controlled stuffed monkey.
After spending much time and money to create this realistic monkey, it was cut from the show. The director had changed his mind.
For Christmas, Hohman’s staff started giving him monkeys. Starting in 2001, he decided these monkeys would become an insider’s joke, something he and his staff could enjoy, whether anyone noticed or not.
There would be a monkey on stage in some form or another, even if they were impossible to see. But it had to fit the play.
In “Twelve Angry Men,” (my favorite of the plays I saw this year), the action takes place in a bare jury room.
“This was the hardest this year, one of the hardest the entire time we’ve been doing it, because the show is so dramatic, and I didn’t want to take away from that,” Hohman confessed.
There is a brand of wipes known as Grease Monkey wipes. They took the wipes and wrapped them in tissue paper to resemble rolls of toilet paper. They stacked the rolls, with the invisible monkeys, on the shelf of an open closet.
The monkeys were impossible to see, but Hohman and his crew knew they were there, representing their monkey business.
Here’s a monkey-spotting guide if you are going up later this year.
In “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” which I didn’t see, the schoolmaster played by Henry Woronicz has a table full of scientific equipment. There’s a monkey bookend.
In “The Tempest,” director B.J, Jones made it easy on Hohman, asking for a monkey covered with gold leaf and surrounded by fruit for a brief banquet scene. (I saw a gold tail but little more. On page 17 of the souvenir program, the tail shows to advantage.)
In “King John,” there was a blue tent with gold fleur-de-lis. A 4-inch monkey is embroidered on one side of a single fleur-de-lis, Hohman said. Unfortunately, this past Saturday the show was rained out and moved to the indoor auditorium. The tent was not on stage. At least I had an excuse for not seeing the elusive monkey.
During one of many frenzied moments in “Anything Goes,” I missed it when actor Joe Vincent walked by with one of those tropical coconut drinks with a monkey perched on the rim.
During one intermission, thinking I could get help from festival founder Fred Adams, I quizzed him: Where’s the monkey? He smiled his sweet smile and admitted he had no idea. “Nobody knows but Ben.”
People have been so distracted looking for the monkey that on his Monday and Thursday seminars, Hohman has a “monkey minute.” He takes pictures and reveals where the monkeys are. Admittedly, some are so small, they really couldn’t be seen except by audience members close to the front.
My friend didn’t have the notice I had, so every time the monkey was supposed to be on stage, I provided a hint by whispering “monkey alert.”
For that, I apologize to the people sitting near me.
When I return again to the festival, I will cease this monkey business. After all, the play’s the thing.
Wait, is Hamlet holding a monkey?
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275.