Stage Door News
Toronto: Soulpepper presents “King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild” July 26-August 6
Thursday, July 6, 2023
Soulpepper Theatre is proud to present the Canadian premiere of King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild, a delightful new hybrid theatre-music production that brings the epic tale of Gilgamesh to life on stage. Directed by Seth Bockley, and featuring Ahmed Moneka and Jesse LaVercombe alongside celebrated Arabic-Maqam fusion band, Moneka Arabic Jazz, King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild will be presented July 25 to August 6, 2023 at the Michael Young Theatre, Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild depicts a present-day story of friendship, interweaving the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh and tracing Ahmed’s real-life journey from exiled Iraqi actor to acclaimed musician in Canada. Featuring themes of art, ambition, sex, and mortality, this two-man epic spans centuries, cultures, and continents in a moving, funny, tragic, and ultimately celebratory performance.
“This show is a true and epic bromance. An adventure from Canada to Mesopotamia.” Says co-creator and performer, Jesse LaVercombe.
But why intertwine these two stories in particular?
“The story of unlikely friendship is one of the oldest in the world. There is a direct parallel between the story of King Gilgamesh and his best friend the beast man Enkidu and the story of the friendship of Jesse and Ahmed in 21st century Toronto. That parallel is a lesson common to both stories: we need friends to help us become our truest and best and strongest selves. We rely on the experience of friendship to see ourselves clearly. Friends are our memory-holders, our tough-truth-tellers, our witnesses in the journey of life. We need friends as much as we need families and lovers, because friends show us who we are without judgment and with deep compassion.” Co-creator and Director, Seth Bockley explains.
King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild makes its Canadian premiere after sold out engagements in Minneapolis’ The Jungle Theatre and New York City’s The Public Theater. Minnesota Monthly called the show ‘a hilarious and heartwarming play’ and The New York Times featured quotes from all three principal creatives.
Moneka Arabic Jazz is a Toronto-based musical group rooted in jazz and blues. Moneka Arabic Jazz draws from bandleader Ahmed Moneka’s Afro-Iraqi heritage and his recent experiences in Toronto’s own multicultural mix: creating a distinct, funky, and unique sound. With a unique sound that fuses traditional Arabic instruments such as the oud, qanun, and darbuka with jazz bass lines and drumming, Moneka Arabic Jazz has quickly gained a devoted following. The group's music is characterized by its hypnotic rhythms, soaring vocals, and intricate melodies that showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Middle East. Moneka Arabic Jazz has performed at numerous festivals and venues across Canada, including the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and the Aga Khan Museum.
“If you have never witnessed a Moneka Arabic Jazz performance, come prepared to revel in one of Toronto’s not-so-hidden gems. Our aim with this production is to bring joy and celebration to your summer.” Says LaVercombe.
In addition to his work with Moneka Arabic Jazz, Ahmed Moneka has collaborated with a wide range of musicians and artists from around the world. He has also been a passionate advocate for the rights of refugees and immigrants, using his music to raise awareness and support for those affected by war and displacement.
Ahmed Moneka is a celebrated actor and musician, who since his arrival in Toronto from Baghdad seven years ago, has made significant contributions as a performing artist in music, film and theatre. The arts community has warmly embraced and celebrated his Iraqi artistic heritage – his stories and songs - and welcomed him into the city and nation’s growing cultural narrative. He has enriched himself through many collaborations, including with the Canadian Opera Company, Soulpepper Theatre, Aga Khan Museum, Tafelmusik, Driftwood Theatre Group, TD Toronto Jazz festival, Koerner Hall, Modern Times Stage, Aluna Theatre, Jabari Dance Theatre, and Small World Music. He is one of the founders of Moskitto Bar and the creator and leader of Moneka Arabic Jazz. Nominated for a Dora Award for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Crow’s Theatre and Modern Times), he has been an artist-in-residence with Driftwood Theatre Group, a member of Soulpepper Academy, and one of the Stingray Rising Stars finalists in 2019 at the TD Toronto Jazz festival and Stingray Rising Stars winner 2022 at Mundial Montreal.
Seth Bockley is a writer of plays, fiction and screenplays, and a theater director specializing in literary adaptation (two stories by George Saunders, the novel 2666 by Roberto Bolaño). His stage works have been seen in Mexico City, Singapore, Bogotá, rural Ireland, and all over North America. An inaugural member of Chicago’s Goodman Theater Playwrights’ Unit, for three years he served as Writer in Residence at Goodman Theater. He is currently Artist in Residence at the Lisbon-based environmental nonprofit Sovereign Nature Initiative, and his first film, The Cartographer, premiered in 2022 at the Berlin Short Film Festival. His libretto for a new opera, The Crash (Russell Hepplewhite, composer), will premiere in Oldenburg, Germany in 2024. He teaches performance and literary adaptation for the stage at the University of Chicago.
Jesse LaVercombe is an award-winning writer and actor who works across film, TV, and theatre, splitting his time between the U.S. and Canada. As a writer, he worked on two feature films coming out in 2023, Float (Lionsgate/Collective Pictures) and Code 8: Part ll (Netflix/Collective Pictures), Netflix’s first original Canadian English-language feature acquisition, and continues to write on upcoming projects for Collective Pictures. Previously, he won the Playwrights Guild of Canada RBC Emerging Playwright Award, toured two solo shows in Canada and abroad, wrote and starred in the award-winning short film, The Things You Think I’m Thinking, and has written a range of other shorts, plays, musicals/opera and articles. As an actor, he won the Toronto ACTRA Award and received a Canadian Screen Award nomination for his work in Violation (Sundance, TIFF, SXSW, New York Times Critic’s Pick, available on Shudder). He’s also known for portraying Jack Walker for four seasons on Murdoch Mysteries (CBC) and has performed on stages across the U.S. and Canada. Training: National Theatre School of Canada, Canadian Film Centre Actors Conservatory.
The co-creators, known as TRIA THEATRE, are thrilled to be part of Soulpepper’s invigorating summer lineup. “I hope audiences will feel energized and uplifted by the music of Moneka Arabic Jazz, and the story of friendship and connection between Jesse and Ahmed. I hope they will also be provoked to learn more about the strange and beautiful world of ancient Mesopotamia, its songs, stories, gods and myths that still resonate today.” Bockley says.
KING GILGAMESH & THE MAN OF THE WILD
When: July 25 to August 6, 2023 at 7:30pm (Fridays at 7pm and Mondays are dark). Weekend and Wednesday matinees at 1:30 pm
Previews: July 25 - 26, 2023 at 7:30pm
Opening Night: July 27, 2023 at 7:30pm
Where: Michael Young Theatre, Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane
Approx. Runtime: 95 minutes
Price: Tickets range from $25.00 to $65.00
To purchase tickets: www.soulpepper.ca.