Filament Theatre Ensemble. By David Grieg. Directed by Julie Ritchey. With Molly Bunder, Lindsey Dorcus, Christian Libonati, Andrew Marchetti. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kevin Thomas
The Monster In The Hall is a cacophony of enthusiasm, anxiety and Scottish accents. David Grieg’s free-flowing script presents an unprocessed, rapid-fire coming-of-age story wrapped around a small nugget of pain and sadness. Filament Theatre Ensemble chose an ambitious project, but one that was within its means. Though it's occasionally rough and careens through its blocking like the show needs to finish up so it can get to the bathroom, it’s an enthusiastic ride whose color, noise and surprises serve the story well.
It wasn’t crazy enough that Duck Macatarsney (Lindsey Dorcus) is the daughter of two bikers. And it wasn’t crazy enough that her mom died years ago in an accident, and that her Ducati Monster motorcycle remains permanently parked in the house as her legacy. Her lovable father Duke (Andrew Marchetti) has developed MS, and Duck has become both caregiver and her own parent in an attempt to keep their ramshackle life going—until an impending visit from social services threatens to strip all that away.
The production takes place in the round with cabaret seating, on a stage resembling a 1960s music program complete with microphones and a piano. Real-life high jinks are interwoven with songs, game show sequences, and late-night hosts who expand upon Duck’s emotional struggles. The style seems to mock the superficial treatment “teen issues” get while also reflecting the dire importance every small problem or mistake has on Duck’s life. What could have been gimmicky is a genuine display of emotion for an overburdened girl trying to grow up.
But the zany style makes for an intensely demanding play. While the scripted elements intricately flow together, the human elements can’t quite keep up. Director Julie Ritchey designed an incredibly imaginative staging that overreaches what even her talented actors can manage. Fantasy sequences are in an American accent, but then the dialogue is done with Scottish accents. Several actors have to play multiple characters in the same scene. With no set, everything must be pantomimed and the actors also have to maneuver/dance/prance across a complex stage. The cast doesn’t actually miss anything, but it leads to a rough, out-of-control feeling through the whole show that I can only describe as building the railroad tracks in front of an already-moving locomotive.
At its best, The Monster in the Hall delivers an old-fashioned teen high jinks comedy that’s been flipped on its head. The teen girl is forced to become an authority figure desperately reigning in a household spiralling out of control. The stakes are real, lasting and emotional. But for the most part, the play keeps it light. It doesn’t treat its subject too seriously, though it does treat it with respect. Duck is still a teenager at the end of the day, and the fantastical elements reflect her enduring youth and the world of possibilities ahead of her despite her challenging situation—if only she and her dad can find a safe way forward.