Archive for December, 2014

Stage review: “Necessary Monsters” at SpeakEasy Stage, Boston

December 18, 2014

By Robert Israel

When actor/playwright John Kuntz and director David R. Gammons collaborated at SpeakEasy Stage in Boston earlier this year, the result was a winning production of Samuel D. Hunter’s deeply disturbing play The Whale, which focused on the angst of a gay man gorging himself to death over the loss of his lover. Their theatrical creativities meshed. So it seemed like a sure bet to unite them again, according to Paul Daigneault, SpeakEasy’s producing artistic director.

“I am …thrilled for the opportunity to work again with both David R. Gammons and John Kuntz, two artists with long and distinguished histories with the company,” Daigneault rhapsodizes in the program notes to SpeakEasy’s current production of Kuntz’s one-act play, Necessary Monsters.

But theatrical lightning has not struck a second time. Necessary Monsters is hampered by a heavy-handed approach at the service of an irritatingly scattershot vision. The script is so cluttered that the cast of eight struggles to keep the action from stalling. They scuttle across a playing space (to quote the script) “like so many tumbleweeds,” separated from the audience by a wire fence, lest we, or they, get too close.

Kuntz doubles as actor and playwright, a Herculean undertaking for any artist. Unfortunately, it proves to be too much. Gammons’s direction tries mightily to “push the envelope,” (again to quote Daigneault) and it is true — he takes some impressive theatrical risks. There are moments of brilliant payoff. When Kuntz’s dazzling writing meshes with the nervy direction there’s plenty to savor: spiky observations about popular culture, sex, technology, and drug abuse are spiced up with plenty of gallows humor. There is a wonderfully written monologue delivered by veteran actor Thomas Derrah as Greer, who rises from a prone position at the rear of the stage and, dressed in drag, delivers a twisted soliloquy.

But these snippets are part of a play that is sort of like an uncompleted Frankenstein monster: random parts have been stitched together without finally arriving at a whole body. The use of technology, designed by Adam Stone, further alienates the audience. Machinery is omnipresent onstage: laptops, television screens, cell phones, old push-button phones with long wires that purposefully ensnare the actors, a neon sign, and piped-in music. And if that’s not enough clutter, there are chairs, tables, scattered debris, plastic cups, candy wrappers, rags, and yellow crime scene tape. The production’s haphazard air suggests that we are at a rehearsal. At any moment I expected Gammons, the director, to emerge from the shadows to stop the action in order to give pointers to the actors, or for Kuntz himself (who plays two roles, Stephen and Theo), to step out of character(s) to instruct an actress on how to better prepare herself for the next scene while we wait for the play to start anew.

There is a Big Theme running through all this morass of activity and that is that monsters live inside us all. Proof of this unoriginal notion is provided ad nauseam. A lonely female (blasted out of her mind on a hashish brownie) engages in a random telephone chat with a male stranger wearing a frightful mask; a husband and wife deal (badly) with the fact that they also happen to be psychiatrist and patient. There is a young man who has a fetishistic attachment to a toy monkey and has simulated coitus with a woman on the floor amidst all the squalor, their limbs indistinguishable as they lay there in a heap. There are episodes of stabbings, gun shots, and screeching. Gratuitous sexual congress abounds: two men engage in simulated fellatio; a woman, dressed provocatively, straddles a male actor’s crotch. None of these couplings arrive at a climax.

Attempting to dig underneath our protective psychic skins to get at the festering Id within, Kuntz would like his play to mesh laughter and fright, comedy and horror. But the line between the two is rubbed out so often (and easily) that it eventually disappears, leaving us confused rather than shaken. Necessary Monsters dishes out a blitzkrieg of words and images that overwhelm rather than provoke.

**

A previous version of this review appeared in The Arts Fuse, Boston.