Kuntz’s ‘Monsters’: original, interesting, confusing
BOSTON — Perhaps, as a playwright, John Kuntz is operating at a different level than most of his audience.
His highly-developed imagination often moves a bit quicker than we other folks following him can comprehend the movements, and what they mean.
Or, what the totality of the interactions and situations his characters find themselves in in his new play “Necessary Monsters,” having its world premiere at the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts.
Just so you know what you’re getting into, director David Gammons, who has collaborated with Kuntz several times, in program notes described the structure of “Necessary Monsters” to that of a Russian nesting doll, with each layer of reality contained within another.
Sound confusing? You have no idea. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t interesting or engaging.
That’s because the characters, incidents and interactions are rife with references to media, pop culture, and entertainment, and Kuntz will cut across — and meld and mash at points — several different genres, including slasher movies and film noir.
The title “Necessary Monsters” will actually weave its way through the work as the title of a book, two very different movies and a child’s show.
Kuntz will move forward and backward in time; time will also move slowly and then lurch forward quickly, much like a roller coaster ride, and that will have you asking: What is “real” and what is ’imagined?”
The action will begin and end on an airplane. Kuntz himself is the flight attendant who will offer water to passengers, then suddenly drop it at their feet. The “ding” you hear on an airplane before an announcement will be a signal of important events to follow. And just when you think Kuntz is going in one direction, he stops on a dime and goes in another completely opposite direction.
Speakeasy Stage, after a recent performance, provided reviewers with a copy of Kuntz’s script. A look at the script finds that Kuntz’s stage directions are actually the key to the understanding better what Kuntz was thinking and what the actors were doing
Take the stage directions for one scene:
(CISSA presses a key. The scene freezes, rewinds and plays again.)
Or the stage directions that follow shortly afterward
CISSA presses a button. They freeze once more. Everything in the bar stops except for CISSA, who works on her computer at the bar. She presses another button. The scene around her fast forwards thru a scene in a crowded subway car to a chase scene with CLINT and a female victim (ABIGAIL) into MIDGE and VICTOR in bed, sleeping. VICTOR gets up, finds MIDGES’ badge, and throws in on the bed. CISSA presses a button. The lights shift and the scene returns to normal speed)
Times moves slower and faster, scenes rewind and play again. The action moves forward and backward in time.
Kuntz and Gammons have recruited a very fine cast and they’re “all in” on Kuntz’s work.
The cast includes Kuntz himself, his husband Thomas Derrah, acting for the first time in one of Kuntz‘s plays, in drag , as Greer, the undead, who awakes from an hour-long slumber at the beginning of the to deliver a stinging, pithy monologue.
The cast also includes McCaela Donovan, Stacy Fischer, Evelyn Howe, Georgia Lyman, Greg Maraio and Michael Underhill. Five of them will double up on characters, which can create confusion. Maraio is both the hockey-mask-wearing Clint — you know what that means — and Victor, a mysterious one-handed man
“Necessary Monsters” is the most visually striking production of the theater season to date, thanks to set designer Cristina Todesco and video and sound design by Adam Stone.
It starts with the configuration of the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.
The audience is seated on two sides, facing each other, and at the center is a wire cage that rises high above the stage, where the action will take place, and where actors are actually already in motion as theater-goers are being seated.
Stone displays a dozen monitors around the stage showing video footage closely linked to what is happening on stage; at other times characters will use a portable camera and what they’re photographing will also be visible on the monitors.
The use of music drips with irony, including “You Are My Sunshine,” which will begin and end the production
And, even if you truly love “Necessary Monsters,”, the actors won’t really know it, because they will have left the stage — and the cage –at the end of the production, not to return.
Kuntz’s work is not for everyone, especially those for whom a linear storyline is a must.
Highly original, never boring, “Necessary Monsters” may confuse and exasperate you. But if the playwright’s goal is to move you, make you think, and yes — sometimes confuse or exasperate you — Kuntz and “Necessary Monsters” have done their job.
The Speakeasy Stage Company world premiere production of John Kuntz’s “Necessary Monsters.” Directed by David R. Gammons. Set design by Cristina Todesco. Costume design by Elisabetta Polito. Sound and video design by Adam Stone. Lighting design by Jeff Adelberg. At the Roberts Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts through Jan. 4. http://www.speakeasystage.com.