John Kuntz’ epic history of our United States (from a rodent point of view) is a hefty undertaking. Circuit Theatre commissioned Kuntz to write them a play and the result is THE ANNOTATED HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN MUSKRAT (scurrying around the BCA through Aug. 16th). Tony Kushner’s ANGELS IN AMERICA separates Part 1 from Part 2 but Kuntz’s “Muskrats in America” stretches out from Part 1 to Part 17 in one sitting. (There may be in fact more than seventeen divisions but I lost count in the frenzy and Kuntz didn’t even include furrier king John Jacob Astor’s rise to power (literally on the backs of the muskrat and the beaver.)
Kuntz leads us on a mad (practically endless) journey from moonwalks to mass murder, from the first Thanksgiving to the latest slaughter on the “Hunting” channel. We meet harried presidents, their agitated wives (although he leaves the last six presidents out of his “history”), restless patients under video surveillance and best of all, a raccoon remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s REBECCA.
Director Skylar Fox’s consummate cast jumps effortlessly from one absurdist scene to the next. You can’t blink or you might miss a flock of flamingos riding across the stage. Then you’re treated to Simon Henriques as Dame Judith “raccoon” Anderson. Simply hilarious! But Kuntz can just as easily depart from his comic stream of consciousness to reference manifest destiny, Wallace Stevens, Trayvon Martin, Lewis and Clark and dubious behavioral science experiments. Then it’s back to the Captain and (Allison Smith’s) Tennille (for their muskrat song, of course!).
Fox (the director, not one of Kuntz’s anthropomorphized characters) adds delightful, whimsical touches like animal appropriate spit takes or a window (with flower box) which zooms in the moment it’s mentioned in the dialogue and yet he can stop our laughter cold when Jared Bellot applies blackface and tells us “the history of Black people in America.”
Kuntz’s “cautionary tale” (or “tail” as the case may be) embraces Justin Phillips’ depressed Pat Nixon, Smith’s manic Betty Ford, Anna Nemetz and Henriques’ crazy cat owners with semi-automatics, Sam Bell-Gurwitz and Alexis Scheer’s disturbing fantasy lives and Edan Laniado’s dreadfully ineffectual attempt at talking down a suicide. Who would combine all this Americana in one play? John Kuntz, of course.