“The Jungle” Will Blow Your Mind

By Chris Narloch

If you are a fan of edgy, thought-provoking theater, I recommend driving over to San Francisco as soon as possible so you do not miss “The Jungle,” one of the most unique theatrical productions of this or any year.

Sacramento hasn’t yet seen much immersive theater –which is all the rage in New York City these days – but “The Jungle” brings this phenomenon to the West Coast in a big way.

For starters, the auditorium inside San Francisco’s gorgeous Curran Theatre has been revamped specifically for “The Jungle,” so as to resemble a rough-and-tumble dinner theater that sprung up inside a real-life refugee and migrant camp in Calais, France several years ago.

The orchestra section of the Curran now consists of crude wooden runways surrounded by benches and long tables covered with ketchup bottles and other set decoration that plunge the patrons of the Curran into the world of the Jungle.

In other words, if you buy a ticket on the ground floor at “The Jungle,” you will experience a bit of what it was like to be inside the camp known as the Jungle, where the play is set, which was in use from January of 2015 until it was cleared in October of 2016.

The evening I saw “The Jungle,” I sat in the Curran’s mezzanine -- which appeared to me to be unaltered -- and I had a perfect overview of the action on the floor, where audience members are essentially part of the show and occasionally have interaction with its brilliant cast of actors and musicians.

The play is immersive for the audience and also for the cast, who disappear in to their characters with a vividness that is breathtaking. I won’t single anyone out, only because the actors form a true ensemble whose various accents and acting styles make for a fascinating and colorful theatrical stew.

As heavy and occasionally violent as the show’s subject matter is, there are multiple moments of humor and music in “The Jungle” that provide release for the audience, in much the same way that the makeshift theater inside the real Jungle must have provided comfort to the desperate refugees dreaming of a better future, who passed through the camp in Calais.

To say that this play is authentic is an understatement, considering that its playwrights (Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson) based their work on the seven months they spent running the actual theatre in the camp in Calais.

Thousands of individuals passed through the camp, and a number of their stories are told and honored by this play, which is essential and bracing theater. It speaks to the reality of our current world and our country’s place in it with a shocking immediacy and intensity.

“The Jungle” performs inside the Curran through May 19. For more information, please visit https://sfcurran.com/shows/the-jungle.

 

Photos by Little Fang.

Top photo: Salar (BenTurner) and Mohammed (Jonathan Nyati)

Bottom photo: Mohammed (Jonathan Nyati), Sam (Tommy Letts), and Safi (Ammar Haj Ahmad)

 

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