There’s a world premiere onstage right now at SpeakEasy Stage Company that rattled my cage; in fact, it’s staged in a cage, the audience peering in from either side as NECESSARY MONSTERS took shape before us. Award- winning actor/playwright John Kuntz and award-winning director David R. Gammons along with a cast of Boston’s best actors have cracked open a line from Jose Luis Borges’ “The Book of Imaginary Beings” and confronted us with the monsters we create to explain and expel the dark sides of our lives: the bad things that happen without, and the ugly, furious impulses that bubble up within.
The playwright describes five stories nested inside one another– it felt like 500–and we’re on high alert to follow the thread that links one to another. At the very beginning there’s a big bang–the original? Or something happening now– an airplane crash? A car crash? Both? A waiter (John Kuntz) is serving two people on a blind date (McCaela Donovan and Michael Underhill); she is a film editor working on a horror movie called “Necessary Monsters,” and he is carrying a stuffed monkey (?). Then we meet two people in a club (Evelyn Howe and Greg Maraio) and we eventually realize they are the actors in the aforementioned horror film. Later, two actors watch a film noir called “Necessary Monsters,” and one of the characters in that film noir (Georgia Lyman) is reading a romance novel called– you guessed it. And so on.
Thus the reality onstage is layered, events in time overlapping past, present, and future, and occurring impromptu and simultaneously. The stage is ringed with TV screens that play pre-recorded and real time images, and all of this layering is reiterated in the stories, the action, and 8 actors who double in 12 parts. Amazingly, the play’s logic while literally hard to follow, felt somehow familiar to me, an echo of self-absorbed 21st century life: people taking selfies, inhabiting alternate realities as avatars of themselves, inventing personas online, videoing their own movements and those of others, the feeling of paranoia mounting(Stacy Fischer embodies that state perfectly here!) in an endless loop of surveillance, etc etc etc.
Kuntz and Gammons have channelled the zeitgeist onstage, and conjured a remarkably vivid, potent underworld, the palpable truth of which reaches past our conscious experience. I mean this play lingered; the night I saw it, I actually dreamt that I saw it again, with my daughter, who in the dream got up from her seat in the audience and interrupted one of the actors in the middle of the play, tapping him on the shoulder– as I sat horrified! The actor later thanked ME for her interaction, after which I frantically searched for my daughter who had mysteriously disappeared. (Get me a playwright.) OK. That’s TMI– but this work is deeply unsettling and clearly a testament to the precision of the stagecraft, the inventiveness of the actors, and the veracity and clarity of the playwright’s vision. I have walked around inside Mr. Kuntz’s muskrat-infested head before (His last show THE ANNOTATED HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN MUSKRAT had Mary Todd Lincoln and “The Captain and Tenille” among many others, sharing a stage.) and I felt a little lost. But NECESSARY MONSTERS provides a thread through the maze, which connects us to something truly universal; it was exhilarating to find myself caught somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, reality & fiction, and Jungian memories, dreams, reflections…
According to Kuntz, all of these characters take their cue from Borges’ archetypal monsters and are tinged with their monstrous qualities–Kuntz says there’s a Harpy, a Minotaur, a Genie; I could at least ID a Cyclops. The most monstrous of all is a character named “Greer,” played by the great Thomas Derrah in drag. Greer rises like a serpent or a gargoyle from her entombment in plain sight on stage; she has been dormant, or lying in wait, or she may have simply erupted full-blown from the bowels of Nieman Marcus, a vicious wealthy socialite suffering from “benefit overkill.” Bored with helping just the plain old poor children, she nastily muses aloud how much better it is when they’re also missing a limb and burned–“crispy tots” she salivates, as she gingerly picks her way through the detritus onstage: corpses, candy wrappers, and crime tape. (See her monologue on video above!)
All of these tales are monstrous in their own way, often propelled by an insatiable hunger and laced with violence: murder, child sexual abuse, dismemberment, torture–all familiar from today’s headlines and reflected in the lurid fictions that constitute entertainment on prime time TV. We are more than ever before it seems–Gaga over monsters–and they are everywhere. Kuntz has caged up a few, but left the membrane permeable. Keep that in mind this holiday season when you trip in to see this “comedy”– NECESSARY MONSTERS– through January 3. HAPPY NEW YEAR…!