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Monkey See, Monkey Do

State of the Arts


Published June 8, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

"Show time" is less than a month away for Burlington's Waterfront Theater, but the drama's already in full swing on the new building's rooftop. Several weeks ago, a copper creature appeared on top of the cupola. Closer inspection reveals she's a winged, kneeling monkey, back arched, mouth open, howling at the sky. Waiting in the wings? Not exactly. "She's in heat," says waterfront developer Melinda Moulton of Main Street Landing, who owns the building at College and Lake Streets with partner Lisa Steele. The two women have already demonstrated their simian sympathies at another of their waterfront properties, Union Station, where two Oz-inspired winged monkeys perch atop the roof. The steel sculptures are local landmarks.

They're also husband and wife, according to Rik Carlson, who once had them on display at his now-defunct waterbed store: the Emerald City of Oz. Now Carlson is "the muse" and de facto director of monkey business for Main Street Landing. He calls the shots. In July, the female winged monkey at Union Station will move to the west side of the building to "give birth" to twins. The father will stay where he is, presiding over Main Street. Meanwhile the howling "blue" monkey on the new building will attract a lover, but her suitor will land prematurely at Union Station. Mouton says she asked Rik, "'Why so far away from his girl?'" and he said something about the 'passionate tension.'"

The non-monkey roles here are also clearly defined. Carlson commissions and pays for the sculptures, which are created by former Vermont artist Steve Larrabee, who is now living in Connecticut. "Our obligation is the expense of putting them up," Moulton explains. In other words, staging and lighting. "I'm excited he's chosen this project to create his theater art," she adds. Long-term, Moulton pictures tourists flocking to the Queen City to capture it all on film. "Some day the monkeys will be to Burlington what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris," she predicts. Visitors will know they're not in Kansas, anyway.

Inside the theater, Matt Wohl is hard at work. In an act of creative improvisation, he bought a bunch of recycled movie theater seats from the recently revamped South Burlington Cinema 9. They'll be installed, stadium-style, in time for the theater's July 3 opening. Moulton calls it a "temporary solution ... until we can afford to buy the retractable seats," but notes, "They'll be very comfortable."

Starting up more or less simultaneously, Death of a Salesman, Fools and Tying Up Sandima will run in rep for six weeks through the middle of August. Wohl says the rest of the year is almost entirely booked. "It's going to be such a great addition to the arts scene in Burlington," he promises. The challenge is getting everything ready by curtain time. "I oscillate between going, 'Omigod, we only have a month' and 'Ahh, we have a month.'" Must feel like a monkey on his back.

Summer reading? John Dewey may be dead, but he's still dangerous. That's according to a right-wing online publication that recently commissioned a panel of conservative scholars to rate the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries." Human Events ranked the Vermont philosopher's signature work, Democracy and Education, at number five after The Communist Manifesto, Hitler's Mein Kampf, Quotations from Chairman Mao and The Kinsey Report. Fifteen judges -- Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly was the sole woman in the group -- critiqued the secular humanist whose views "helped nurture the Clinton generation." Also on the right's wrong list: Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, The Course of Positive Philosophy by Auguste Comte, Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil and General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Dishonorable mentions went to Darwin, Skinner, Freud and Foucault.