Watching SpeakEasy Stage Company’s world premiere of multi-talented, award-winning actor-playwright John Kuntz’s new, 100-minute, one-act,dark comedy, “Necessary Monsters,” is like traveling through a twisted, kaleidoscopic maze of nightmares.
Kuntz and his longtime friend, director David R. Gammons, have conjured up a relentless, mind-boggling experience here.
There’s no escape, either. You don’t want to. Trapped in set designer Cristina Todesco’s 10-foot cage-like enclosure, located between theatergoers flanked on both sides of it, the 22-character play, starring eight of Boston’s topnotch actors, (including Kuntz and his superlative real-life husband, Thomas Derrah), fascinates, perplexes, and pulsates throughout the performance. Most actors portray dual roles, making it more difficult to follow the purported story threads, yet Kuntz manages to interweave them all.
Kuntz portrays waiter Theo and also cheating psychiatrist Stephen, who’s plotting to murder his wife, Abigail (Georgia Lyman), because she refuses to give him a divorce. Derrah is deliciously gossipy and sniping as self-indulgent, female socialite Greer, who’s weary from attending benefits for the poor, but sees some value in attending this latest one for limbless, “crispy tots” - badly burned children without legs or arms. The lovely, talented Lyman (renowned Boston actor Will Lyman’s daughter), is also commandingly sexy as a fantasy bad girl, Mia.
Petite McCaela Donovan is a quietly effective force as neophyte film editor, Cissa, shooting an independent horror movie about a serial killer. Donovan’s also Gillian, a nervous, rapid-talking young lady whose mother just died. She seeks solace with her troubled,delusional,monkey-doll toting boyfriend, Drake, (Michael Underhill).
Looming Greg Maraio shifts from shy character Clint, who carries on a phone conversation with a confused stranger, Flora (Stacy Fischer). She dialed the wrong number and got Clint instead, so they eventually make plans to meet. Without warning, Maraio becomes an evil movie serial killer character, Victor, sporting a montrous white mask and bandaged stump in place of his hand. Maraio’s silent, deliberate moves and swift swipes, slashing victims’ throats and torsos, are nightmarish.
Evelyn Howe is also an attention magnet in her dual roles as Steve’s mistress, Midge, and Faye. Thing is, trying to figure out when the cast switches from fantasy to reality, (and back again), is head-spinning.
Award-winning, prolific playwright Kuntz teaches acting at Boston Conservatory and he created this play for his students to perform in 2011. In 2013, “Necessary Monsters” appeared at Huntington Theatre Company as a staged reading.
Kuntz compares his play to a set of Russian nesting dolls. He said it’s five over-lapping stories,set inside each other - a book (entitled “Necessary Monsters”), a horror movie with the same name, a film noir, and a children’s TV show - with all characters connected by a huge tragic event and the play moving toward that end. Is it a plane crash? Seems that way. The cast’s gyrations and writhings, sound-video designer Adam Stone’s booms, smashes, crashes, eerie sound effects, along with Jeff Adelberg’s accompanying lighting, are jarring. Nobody’s going to nod off at this production!
Although Kuntz’s images and reflections aren’t concisely defined, he fuses reality, dreams, movie scenes-within-the-play, and more, which run into each other at times. The characters, their actions and interactions, are compelling from the get-go.
Even before the play begins, they’re lying down, moving, exercising, sitting, walking. The stage has white chairs strategically placed, is littered with several video monitors, which blink accompanying images to enhance scenes. Illuminated trouble lights are on the floor, while strobe lights, wall monitors, stage fog, and other effects glue theatergoers‘ attention to the cluttered cage.
Kuntz based his theme of humans needing monsters to explain why bad things happen in their lives on Jorge Luis Borges‘ “The Book of Imaginary Beings,” in which Borges cites, “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 chimaera [a mythological monstrous fire-breathing creature] or the catoblepas” [another mythological creature].
Not everyone appreciates “Necessary Monsters,” especially conservative theatergoers who like predictable plays with pat solutions. But theaters seeking extraordinary, provocative fare are thrilled. After enacting the play’s mix of dramatic chaos and irony, the actors unlock the cage, stop, look, then stroll out, silently, single file, as the monitors boast film credits. Meanwhile, we’re left sitting there, stunned, ruminating over our own mental captivity, fears, and fantasies.
BOX INFO: One-act play by versatile award-winning actor-playwright John Kuntz, appearing with SpeakEasy Stage Company, through Jan. 3, 2015, at Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) Calderwood Pavilion, Roberts Studio Theatre, 527 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Showtimes: Jan. 3, at 4,8 p.m.; Dec. 30, at 7:30 p.m.;Jan.1, at 2,7:30 p.m.; Jan. 2, at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $25, with student, senior and 25-under discounts. Call 617-933-8600, visit www.BostonTheatreScene.com.