‘Necessary Monsters’ A Thrilling Trip Into A Strange Universe (5 Stars)

‘Necessary Monsters’ – Written by John Kuntz; Directed by David R. Gammons; Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., Boston.

John Kuntz has created a Matryoska doll of a play, deeply rooted in Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty. Brilliantly staged by SpeakEasy Stage Company, ‘Necessary Monsters’ is a free fall into the rabbit hole of Kuntz’s twisted mind. It’s a play about a book, but also about the process of making a movie from a book. The book (and the movie) is the “Necessary Monsters” from the title. It’s one of those pieces of popular fiction that takes the country by storm that everyone is reading, and is now being made into a film. And this is where we pick up the action.

Trying to describe the plot of Necessary Monsters is difficult, because the play jumps around in time and space, and the eight actors on stage play 22 separate characters throughout the course of the production. It centers around the serial killer character that the book is written about, and the special effects editor working on the film, but that’s just the jumping off point. Before the play even begins, the audience is thrust into the world that Kuntz and Gammons have created.

Upon entering the theater you are confronted by a large cage in the center of the space, surrounded by flickering shop-lights with all the actors already inside and performing strange movement exercises and vocalizations. The audience risers face each other across the space, creating a living backdrop for the action of the play. Also inside the cage are multiple television sets showing a cloudscape interspersed with short bursts of strange visuals. This video art by Adam Stone is a major part of the production and provides context, setting, and ambiance throughout the show. Like the play itself, this video is an artwork inside another artwork and would stand up on its own in any modern art gallery.

The overall feel of the piece is very industrial and creepy, helped along by Jeff Adelberg’s unique lighting design which utilizes lighting instruments not normally seen in the theater, such as fluorescent tubes and industrial shop-lights. The cage that scenic designer Cristina Todesco created serves as the playing space and is adapted throughout the production to alternately become a diner, airplane, torture chamber, television studio, and many other locales. The costuming by Elisabetta Polito is minimalist but very effective.

Each character being portrayed had a unique look that seemed to morph magically throughout the show. I kept trying to catch the actors changing their costumes, but it was done so seamlessly that this proved impossible.

The cast is amazing across the board and work together very well. They are all onstage for the entire production, and this is a true ensemble piece, with all the actors contributing in equal parts. Thomas Derrah as Greer does steal the show at a certain point, giving a turn as one of the most authentic drag characters I’ve ever seen on stage.

If you’re looking for a fun show to bring Grandma and the kids to for the holidays, this is not the one. If you’re looking for a play that will challenge the way you see the world and provide a thrilling trip into a strange universe, this production is not to be missed. The play runs 1 hour 50 minutes with no intermission. For more info, go to: http://www.speakeasystage.com/necessary-monsters/