Hominid: the Play


Theater Emory, together with Out of Hand Theater, recently translated “Chimpanzee Politics” into a play, written by Ken Weitzman. The play is entitled “Hominid,” which nowadays means the same as the old term Hominoid (I know this gets confusing!): A hominid is a member of the primate family that encompasses the great apes and humans. The play was directed by Ariel de Man, and featured actors Chris Kayser, Carolyn Cook, Adam Fristoe and Matt Huff.

The play takes the drama of the Arnhem chimpanzees, the power struggles, the chimp names, and many behavioral details and applies them to a human-like situation. One has to pay close attention to follow the storyline because there is little spoken language. One needs to read body language, which is a big difference with Shakespeare (with which the play is compared!) and other playwrights, who mostly rely on the spoken word to tell their story. Here we have strutting, hitting, food sharing, reconciling, and out-of-view sex scenes to convey who is dominant, subordinate, unhappy, attractive, and so on. At the end of the play, fragments of the movie “The Family of Chimps” are played to make the connections with chimp behavior explicit.

I found it a wonderful experience. The scene in the play where the chimps mourn the death of their beloved leader made me think of the photograph discussed on this blog. Seeing the play, one may wonder if chimps really care as much about the death of others as the actors make it seem, but the available evidence on chimp behavior make this scene seem less unlikely.

— Frans de Waal