It’s not every play that begins with a half-naked man sporting a bone through his nose, telling the audience that he and his friend were “talking politics at the edge of the swamp.” And that freshness of perspective is what makes Jeff Cohen’s “The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller” so beguiling.
The play uses the 1961 disappearance of Nelson Rockefeller’s youngest son in the Asmat region of New Guinea as a jumping off point to explore the invasive effects of Western exploration of indigenous cultures. Despite Rockefeller’s (Aaron Strand) good-faith efforts, he is perceived as having created an imbalance among the Asmat, causing the death of their chief. Designing Man (Daniel Morgan Shelley) is called upon, particularly by his friend Half Moon Terror (David King), to restore balance.
Half Moon, whose wife, Plentiful Bliss (Tracy Jack), is pregnant, also proposes to switch spouses with his buddy, an offer Designing Man feels obligated to accept. Plentiful, who wants to have sex constantly, compliments Designing Man on his “shaping tool” and suggests they go lie down. Designing Man comes to believe she’s been planted by her husband to convince him to kill Rockefeller.
While it raises serious issues, “The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller” maintains a light tone that never minimizes the internal struggle of Designing Man. If not always riveting, it’s nonetheless quite appealing with its quirky marriage of humor and social/sociological commentary.