Between a rock and a hard place

The Monster Tales

By Mary Jett Parsley
Directed by Amy Henault
Boomerang Theatre Company
The Actor’s Playground
412 8th Ave. (at 31st St.), 2nd fl. (501-4069)
Equity showcase (closes Oct. 3)
Review by Rebecca Longworth

When a monster appears from under the bed to help a lonely girl escape her dull existence by telling fairy tales, one expects a pretty unusual evening; but the pedestrian writing of The Monster Tales destroys any sense of magic or wonder that should fill this sort of play.

Mimi (Erika Bailey) has just settled down with a book and her teddy bear for the evening when she hears a bump in the night. Soon she’s confronted with a craggy-faced Monster (Peter Morr). Via the secret network that connects all under-the-beds, the Monster has surreptitiously followed Mimi since her childhood to listen to the stories she tells in her sleep. Now he’s curious to know the waking Mimi, and chose tonight to introduce himself. After a few unconvincing shrieks of terror, Mimi insists that she doesn’t know any stories, and that she’s actually boring and unimaginative. The Monster starts to tell them, and her own fairy tales come to life in Mimi’s bedroom: she meets a mail-order bride, her blind husband and his dutiful servant; a middle-aged gardener who finds a boy growing in her garden one day; a girl who locks herself away after her mother’s death, awaiting messages from beyond the grave; and a man who has grown weary of his miraculous ability to make music with only his hands.

These stories are entertaining and have a few wonderful moments, like the Monster’s description of his origin in rocks and the simple, crucial realization at the moment of his birth that he exists. But most of the writing is wordy and awkward. It makes for an evening that is longer and duller than necessary and presents inconsistencies in the characters that the director and actors in this production have not entirely overcome. The script often resorts to telling the audience what is happening in the inner life of the characters rather than allowing their interactions to display that life, and director Amy Henault wasn’t able to make up for this shortcoming. She managed the traffic on and off the small stage well and provided smooth transitions between story and meta-story, but seemed to have had her hands full with the verbose script. While each actor had begun to find fragments of the precise characterizations essential to constructing a series of fairy-tale archetypes, she didn’t shape their particular performances into a sound, finished structure.

Still, the actors built some decent performances out of their shoddy material. While unable to reconcile the claim that Mimi is "dull and boring" with her talking to teddy bears, Erika Bailey did display a lively and convincing transformation as she told a story of her own creation. Jane Courtney was surprisingly complex as a robotic but sensitive mail-order bride, and earnestly melancholy as orphaned Raisa, though slightly hackneyed as a sickly peasant woman. Scot Carlisle gave an adorable performance as the innocently artless Boy in the garden that was far more accessible than his cautious David the Servant. Ed Shultz as the blind man and the musician and Nora Hummel as the gardener, Raisa’s mother, and the musician’s wife gave deft performances that were the most sincere and intriguing of the evening. Peter Morr as the Monster managed to work with his whole body around his prosthetic makeup. He was suitably rock-like, serious, and solemn, if not a particularly exciting, non-human.

W. T. McRae’s storybook-flat set was colorful, but some elements were too amateurish. Its highlight was a lovely window glowing with an intense blue sky and silver moon and stars, but the castle-like interior of Mimi’s bedroom didn’t fit any of the fairy-tale themes. Sarah Jakubasz’s lighting and Ernie Rich’s sound design were both sufficient and uncomplicated, as appropriate for the small space, and Sidney Shannon assembled costumes that fit the characters and the stories they inhabit to a tee. Perhaps the best piece was the Monster’s rumpled silk shirt, which was amazingly evocative of the rocks from which he was born.

Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Rebecca Longworth