SpeakEasy's "Necessary Monsters": Kuntz Uncaged

Thomas Derrah and Cast in "Necessary Monsters"
(photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo)

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s latest offering is the world premiere of playwright/actor John Kuntz’s “Necessary Monsters”, a gleefully demented amalgam of “La Ronde”, “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” and “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”. In the spirit of spoof, herewith (hopefully with most spoilers unspoiled) please accept some theatrical Cliff notes.

After some foreshadowing mime, a familiar “ding” (precisely the sound you hear on an airplane) indicates all the actors are to be seated in rows for their stories to begin with the singing of “You Are My Sunshine”. Drake (Michael Underhill), hunky with a monkey (stuffed), asks Stephen (John Kuntz), a waitperson, if they’d ever met before. Next, Cissa (McCaela Donovan), a film special effects editor, enters for her blind internet date with Drake, informing him she’s at work on a serial killer mystery, “Necessary Monsters”. Then there’s a flashback to a younger Drake, held hostage by an unnamed man and his moll Mia (Georgia Lyman). Stephen next enters to admit to Drake that years ago he saved Drake’s life in Barcelona. Then Midge (Evelyn Howe) meets Victor (Greg Maraio), who lost one hand, in a crowded bar where the masked Clint (also played by Maraio) also appears. It becomes clear (well, if you’re paying strict attention) that this is all a filmed scene being created by Cissa (who overhears a television show about a man intent on strangling his wife) and that Midge is an undercover cop on the trail of a serial killer. Flora (Stacy Fischer) relates the same story about the strangler on the phone to Clint, who’s tied up Theo (Kuntz again) who turns out to be a psychiatrist intent on strangling his wife. Next Abigail (Lyman again) is on Theo’s office couch talking about her overeating. Next Faye (Howe again) enters describing how she was photographed firing an underling.

Meanwhile, it turns out all this is part of the book that just everyone’s reading (yes, you guessed it, entitled “Necessary Monsters”). Drake, at home, imagines he hears creatures running about. Then Gillian (Donovan again) Drake’s ex, appears to thank him for the flowers he sent when her mother died. Next all shush Drake so that Greer (Thomas Derrah, in drag) can deliver a lengthy monologue (spoken to an invisible friend Suzanne at a benefit for burned and limbless children), then exit as the cast sings “You Are My Sunshine”. Clint arrives to offer a younger version of Drake money for sex, at which Gillian yells “cut”, indicating we’re watching a scene being filmed again. Theo the psychiatrist then gets shot by Abigail, which turns out to be part of that book everyone’s reading. Mia (the moll, remember?) tells Drake he was the one who got away from the killer. And Cissa reveals she’s finished “Necessary Monsters”, which Kuntz also does, to Willy Nelson’s “You Are My Sunshine”; how won’t be revealed here.

It should be noted that the entire play occurs within the confines of a huge cage designed by Cristina Todesco (filled with television sets, an endless telephone line, and seemingly endless supply of props). The rest of the technical credits include Costume Design by Elisabetta Polito, Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg and Sound/Video Design by Adam Stone. Each contributes enormously to helping things seem at least partly comprehensible, as does the fluid Direction by David R. Gammons. The acting by all of the travelers on this ship of fools is also first rate, especially important when roles are as doubled as they are here for most of the cast. Derrah stands out with his devastatingly hilarious diatribe. All of these amazing thespians make the storytelling amusing and involving even if more than a tad convoluted.

Confused? No doubt, and this seems to be part of the playwright’s intention. The interrelated stories are rather like “Six Degrees of John Kuntz”, and challenging to follow. There are some clues along the way in dialogues as Kuntz unwraps overlapping layers. Faye asks: “Is there a finite amount of suffering?…I stub my toe, so that a hungry child may eat a warm meal; I win an Emmy so thirty nuns must die in a tidal wave…why isn’t life equitable?”. Abigail declares that “hearts are over-rated”. Theo states that “things are never as bad as they seem”. And Greer, making a passing reference to a deceased son Kenneth (one of Clint’s victims?), opines that she “deserves something better than this…Things will never get better if you just stay quiet”. Finally, there’s the statement by Midge that “there has to be some connection, there just has to be, between you (Victor) and him (Clint) and all of his victims; It can’t just be random”.

So there’s method in Kuntz’s madness. If your preference is for linear theater, then this probably won’t be your bag. It’s as absurdist as drama gets these days, where there’s more attention paid to the journey than to the destination. At the close, the actors, finally let out of their cage, silently walk off, with a brief pause to look back at one another, never to return. The audience, first bewildered then bemused, eventually realizes the author is still at work even after the supposed end of the play. There are no curtain calls (alas, removing one of the prime rewards of performing), as the theatergoers stumble from the darkness into the light. Some may be reminded of Greer’s note about her husband: “He adores the ballet, the only time he gets any sleep”. If you love surrealism, you’ll be totally enthralled by the creativity and language. After all, intelligibility is over-rated.

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