Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Co.
By John Kuntz
Directed by David R. Gammons
Dramaturgy by Walt McGough
Review by Kitty Drexel
Trigger warning: Strobe lighting, smoking, unsexy sex, murder, drugs, wiring from an electrical engineer’s worst nightmare
(Boston, MA) The proverb goes, “some people are only alive because it is illegal to kill them*.” The majority of the people who advertise that they apply this statement to their life philosophies are frequently ignorant, bigoted and deeply stupid. One just doesn’t say such things (lest your friends and loved ones think you’re one of them. No one wants to be considered one of them). That doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t agree. On the contrary, we frequently do but refuse to publicly admit it because our Mommies taught us better than that. We only admit we agree with this proverb in the quiet of the night, privately and alone. But it’s true isn’t it? There are certain people that we believe are bad and therefore must be stopped. Sometimes it’s a terrible man like Hitler, and sometimes it’s Celia in 24B across the hall with her 4 incessantly yapping corgis, 2am vacuuming, and magazine stealing habits. Sometimes Celia, and what she represents, must die. It’s thoughts like these that fuel Necessary Monsters.
Kuntz is famous for stream of consciousness scripts that skip merrily between layers of surreal and abstract awareness. They are not for the faint of heart or tidy of mind. His last endeavor was The Annotated History of the American Muskrat with Circuit Theatre last August. It was delightfully weird and mind-blowing. Necessary Monsters shares a similar form (in that the form is organic) with American Muskrat but is otherwise not comparable. They are very different beasts.
This play is about a movie based on a novel, that is also a children’s TV program, explained on a date in a dream a passenger has on a plane. Our ensemble is on a flight to an unknown destination. During the flight that the audience is meant to forget about, the actors play several characters that are linked through the convoluted plot by their sins. Cissa (McCaela Donovan) is a film editor on the horror flick Necessary Monsters who is on an awkward date with Drake (Michael Underhill) who brought his stuffed monkey for moral support. Greer (Thomas Derrah) is an aging socialite suffocating by her own pride. Flora (Stacy Fischer) is psychopath Hell bent on love. Things escalate from there. I’m not even scratching the surface with my summary. For lack of better terminology: It’s very Mulholland Drive meets Memento meets Friday the 13th if produced as performance art. It’s bloody brilliant.
This is an emotionally violent show. While several characters might be decent enough people in other contexts, we don’t see much of their decency in this show. Their characters are literally and figuratively caged beasts of varying degrees of domestication. They are murderers and victims. Kuntz describes in graphic detail through incongruous scenes why the murderers and victims are categorized as such. Monsters is frequently funny but never pleasant.
The ensemble is like the Tribe from Hair if they were all having a bad acid trip in a late 90’s frat house basement that time forgot. The cast does extremely well with such a dark script. They manage to convince the audience that what they are experiencing might not be normal, things are occurring as they should. It is the audience that is hallucinating and not the cast. They might be unreliable narrators but they are completely sane. This in itself is horrifying.
It would be easy to say that Derrah delivers the standout performance of the evening (so easy that I’m doing it. Right. Now.) but only because he has the advantage of performing an epic monologue while the ensemble rests. Derrah is so convincing as bored and selfish Greer that we are willing to suffer abuse to hear him daintily bark his lines with decisive clarity. Yet, the cast set him up for his great solo and must be remembered for their support. Derrah spends the majority of the play giving the stage to his co-actors. They graciously give it back when their turn is over.
There’s a lot to slog through while watching this production. Kuntz, Gammons, and the cast throw a lot at the audience** without mercy. Do not go on an empty stomach. Do not go if you’re struggling with mental health issues that leave you emotionally unstable. Do not go if you’re capable of violence and only need an excuse to lash out. Do not go if you’re triggered by rape, murder or drug use. Do not go if you cannot reason with intolerable cruelty, antipathy, and ignorance. Do go if you enjoy a rousing rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.” Celia in 24B would hate this show.
*Unsourced because the internet is dark and full of terrors.
**Insert shoutout to Underhill’s ripped abs here.