Monster mash


By Frank Hertle
Directed by David Copeland
The Theatre-Studio
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Andrés J. Wrath

The Theatre-Studio, Inc. presented Monster by Frank Hertle for its year-round Playtime Series, an ongoing season of new plays in development. Monster offers healthy doses of horror and comedy working hand in hand. Although the play needs some more development (mostly in act two), it offered a good cast, competent direction, and a very wicked idea.

Monster presents an All-American family living in small-town America. Rose Tully (Joanna McNeilly) is the matriarch of the family, which consists of her son Edward (David Copeland), his wife Sara (Vanessa), and their daughter Drew (Haley Graham). Paranoia runs rampant in this small town, because of a serial killer on the loose. Then a mysterious man, Gordon Smithe (Joe Hoover), shows up at the Tully's residence, and things start to go mysteriously wrong: the telephone line goes down, the car won't start. Gordon Smithe himself is a little unhinged, spouting philosophies on retribution and how victims of savage crimes actually bring it on themselves. What's a family to do but to turn the tables on the suspected killer?

"Monster" offers a hysterical and well-written first act. The atmosphere is laid on thick with rats, poison, bad dreams, and outrageous anecdotes. The characters are well-drawn, especially Rose, Drew, and Gordon Smithe. Meanwhile, the laughs pile on thick as the family copes with the suspected killer, trying not to tip him off. The solution to what to do with Gordon Smithe is outrageous and clever. The second act, however, is somewhat of a let-down. When Gordon's twin brother Henry (also played by Joe Hoover) shows up, he is more anemic than his more psychotic twin and offers fewer thrills. Further, the up-in-the-air (who is really the killer?) ending doesn't work.

The acting was a delight. Joanna McNeilly (although obviously too young for the part) was charm and malice rolled into one. Her Rose Tully was a stunning creation: part American Gothic and part Miss Daisy. When Joe Hoover's Gordon Smithe ranted and flailed about rightful violence, the switch from the tender grandma to a far more animalistic creature lent a perfect touch to the proceedings. Mr. Hoover and Haley Graham were terrific as well.

Silverio Avellino as Deputy Giles was a hoot; and, although there could have been more for David Copeland and Vanessa to do other than look scared, they offered strong commitment levels in an already fine ensemble.

The directing by Mr. Copeland was focused and confident in the scenes he was not in and less focused and confident in the scenes that he did appear in. Regardless, Mr. Copeland did a fine job with the pace but faltered a bit with some of the scenes in act two that seemed flatter than the delightful scenes in act one. The uncredited lights and sets were serviceable but nothing more.
Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Andrés J. Wrath