Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Monster Play

MONSTER PLAY, Jeremy Paul’s imagination again goes wild

When Jeremy Paul, the creator and director of MONSTER PLAY, now getting its world premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre, was a child, he was afraid of monsters. A normal kid would be afraid of bats, witches, thing under the bed, or the boogey man. As has been demonstrated in many of his previous productions, Paul’s fertile imagination doesn’t follow the “normal” path. Believe it or not, his monsters were robots. Yep, robots.

As I said in a previous Theatre Ninjas’ review, “being inside Paul’s head must be like being in a labyrinth of a fun house. Weird visions must swirl around and around. The result of Paul’s creativity is usually fascinating and confounding theatre.” MONSTER PLAY, his latest invention, is true Paul.

The evening starts out with the author, sounding like Bela Lugosi of Count Dracula film fame, warning the audience to turn off their cell phones and not dare to crinkle candy wrappers. Or else! You have been warned. The bizarre is about to begin.

Paul creates a combination of monsters, fantasies and haunting metaphors. Andrew Kaletta’s set, is a canopy of fabrics draped over the theatre-in-the-round playing area. Large blood covered tarps often enshroud the actors making them into a solo monster, and other times individual actors are wrapped in the cloth. Startling Benjamin Gantose lighting effects, including a strobe light, add to the visual illusions. Blood inked actors assault the senses.

Paul inserts comic routines that delight, including a walking version of the shower scene from the movie PSYCHO, a macabre segment from Little Red Riding Hood, and several Grimm’s fairy tales.

Paul doesn’t just stop at getting you ready for Halloween, he also takes on the real monsters: religion, doctors, and parents.

Yes, as the conceiver warns, “Monsters haven’t gone anywhere, they still wait outside our houses, our closets, beneath old bridges, and in the grills of cars as they run stop lights.”

The cast is well versed and trained. They consume the stage and the imagination. Ray Caspio, Stuart Hoffman (adorned in a hair shirt), Val Kozlenko, Jenni Messner and Lauren B. Smith morph from role to role with ease in their grubby blood and dirt stained rough-clothed costumes.

Since the audience is no more than 15 feet away from the performers, the cast’s grunts, moans and smells are up front and personal. It all adds to the bizarre effect.

A pre-tween girl watching the performance I saw, spent most of the evening clinging to her father, being devoured by Paul’s imagination. I’m sure she spent a sleepless night.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: MONSTER PLAY is a fun, confounding and psychologically disrupting experience. It should be on the must see list for every warped teenager, and will also appeal to adults who are fascinated by things that go bump in the night.