Our Basic Nature
Our Basic Nature

"I often have the feeling that the deeper I look into Lucy the more I may see of my own basic nature."
—Dr. Maurice Temerlin

The Scenario

In 1964, psychologist Maurice Temerlin and his wife Jane adopted a day-old chimpanzee to whom they gave the name Lucy. Their intention, wrote Temerlin, was to raise Lucy “as much as possible as though she were a human being.” Temerlin’s account of the experience, Lucy: Growing Up Human, tells how his “daughter” learned to dress herself, eat with silverware, use the toilet, make tea for guests, look at magazines, communicate through sign language, keep a pet of her own, and enjoy cocktails. In addition to considering how Lucy is affected by her “human” upbringing, he reports on how his “unusual daughter” affects the other members of the household, especially himself.

Even with her extensive repertoire of human behavior and her obvious affection for the Temerlins, Lucy remained, biologically, a chimpanzee—an animal of considerable physical strength with relatively limited impulse control. A decade into their experiment, the Temerlins began to look for a way to transfer Lucy out of their household. Eventually they decided that a chimpanzee rehabilitation center in Gambia would provide the best environment for Lucy to live out her remaining years. (Chimpanzees can live up 50 years.) University of Oklahoma psychology graduate student Janis Carter accompanied Lucy to the center to assist her transition, but the process was difficult; Lucy showed many signs of depression, including refusal to eat.

Several years later, Janis Carter returned to the Center and was greeted by Lucy and a group of chimps. After embracing Carter, Lucy left with the other chimps without turning back, which Carter interpreted as Lucy having assimilated to life as a chimp.

One year later, Carter returned and found Lucy's skeleton with hands missing and head separated from the rest of the body, and no sign of skin or hair. Based on these signs, she concluded that Lucy had fallen victim to poachers.

The Work
Actual events described in Temerlin’s memoir serve as a starting point for Lucy, a fictional memory play in which we meet Temerlin alone in his office, some decades after he made the decision to bring Lucy into his home. As he struggles to hold on to
memories of a happy, if unconventional, family life, documentation from the “cross-fostering” project both supports and challenges his efforts.

Lucy is a one-act monodrama for baritone and chamber ensemble. The ensemble does not include a monkey.

More Information
In early 2010, Lucy's life-story was the subject of a 1-hour Radiolab episode, "Radiolab Show 702 - Lucy", excerpted below.