Saturday, December 13, 2014

SpeakEasy Stage Company Presents "Necessary Monsters" by John Kuntz - A Remarkable New Play In Its World Premiere

What is "Necessary Monsters"?  Well, it is a book, a play, a children's TV show, a film noir - and at the end of the day it is a reflection.  And I mean "reflection" in two senses of the word: a mirroring that shows us ourselves, as well as a time of musing and considering - of reflecting on - the meaning of what we are seeing in that mirror.

John Kuntz has crafted a fascinating and thought-provoking play that is far from linear, and has been described by the Playwright and Director, David R. Gammons, as containing several layers of reality inside of one another - like Russian nesting dolls - "матрешки".

This play began life as a work that Mr. Kuntz wrote for his acting students at Boston Conservatory. His initial thinking about the subject matter was inspired by a quotation from Jorge Luis Borges' work, "The Book of Imaginary Beings":

"We do not know what the dragon means, just as we do not know the meaning of the universe, but there is something in the image of the dragon that is congenial to man's imagination, and thus the dragon arises in many latitudes and ages.  It is, one might say, a necessary monster, not some ephemeral and casual creature like the chimera or the catoblepas."

A remarkable ensemble of gifted actors put flesh onto the skeleton of ideas that the playwright has conceived.  They are helped enormously by the visionary direction of Mr. Gammons, who envisioned, along with Scenic Designer Cristina Todesco, the entire production happening inside of a large cage (think of a Mixed Martial Arts combat enclosure).  Audience members are seated in two sections on opposite sides of the long axis of the cage - each half of the audience creating a mirror image of the other! The myth of Narcissus and Echo is very much in play here.  The production is tremendously enhanced by the brilliant Sound and Video Design of Adam Stone, Lighting by Jeff Adelberg and Costumes by Elisabetta Polito.

Evelyn Howe as Midge/Fay
John Kuntz as Stephen/Theo
"Necessary Monsters"
Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo
It just occurred to me as I was "reflecting" on the photo above, that the Lighting Designer and Director have blocked these two actors in such a way that it creates a chiaroscuro effect - light and darkness juxtaposed to one another, which is one of the themes of this play!  Astounding!

Let's talk about the vibrant and versatile ensemble cast.  Before the play formally begins, several of the actors are miming repetitive gestures, such as a flight attendant's routine at the front of a plane before takeoff.  The roles are physically and emotionally demanding, with several actors portraying multiple roles.  For example, Greg Maraio plays Victor and Clint, which makes him both a monster and a victim.  It is an effective way to reinforce Tolstoy's insight that "the line between good and evil runs through the center of each human being's heart."  Standing out among this troupe is the performance of veteran actor Thomas Derrah in drag as Greer.  The role of Greer is a prolonged rant that occurs in the middle of the play and embodies many of the memories and nightmares we harbor in our imaginations of a monstrously over-controlling parent.  Mr. Derrah's performance is nothing less than a tour de force in high dudgeon.

Thomas Derrah as Greer
"Necessary Monsters"
Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo
The full cast consists of:

  • Thomas Derrah as Greer
  • McCaela Donovan as Cissa/Gillian
  • Stacy Fischer as Flora
  • Evelyn Howe as Midge/Faye
  • John Kuntz as Stephen/Theo
  • Georgia Lyman as Abigail/Mia
  • Greg Maraio as Victor/Clint
  • Michael Underhill as Drake
Michael Underhill as Drake
"Necessary Monsters"
Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo
I will not say much about the plot - for two reasons.  First, that this is not really a plot-driven drama, but an experience of full immersion into asynchronous actions that fold onto one another like living mobius strips.  Second, I do not want to spoil any surprises, for there are twists and turns that are best appreciated of they are unanticipated.

This is a play that for the audience member requires some heavy lifting if it is to be understood and appreciated.  It is not for the faint of heart or for the casual theater goer who wants only to be lightly entertained.

This SpeakEasy Stage Company production will run through January 3, 2015 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.  It would be monstrous of you to miss this show - and unnecessary!  Book your tickets now.



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