Monsters of the American Cinema
By Christian St. Croix
Kitchen Theatre through October 1
Some plays gather a force as they whirl through their scenes, a furious ball of energy that threatens to erupt at any moment. They become experiences: like negotiating rapids, or standing at a precipice surveying a landscape broken yet riven with beauty.
Such is the power of Christian St. Croix’s Monsters of the American Cinema, which opens the Kitchen Theatre Company’s 33rd season in a riveting production. Director Rachel Lampert’s return to the Kitchen stage is a triumph: a sense of musicality, of shifting tones and rhythms, offset with bright shots of humor, pervades the stage action.
Pup is 16, a teenager who has lost both mother and father, being raised by his dad’s lover. They couldn’t be more different. Pup: white, hetero, male, just embarking on the next stage of his life; Remy: Black, queer, flamboyant, a little femme, middle-aged and widowed. They live in a mobile home on the premises of a drive-in movie business in a small town outside San Diego that Remy has inherited from his partner.
As the play opens, Pup and Remy directly address the audience, unfolding their complicated histories with a light yet frank touch that pulls us into their orbits. As the two jump into their first interactions, Pup is all nervous twitches, frantically trying to dress to impress friend Mia for a Homecoming dance (while denying that any romantic feelings), while Remy gently helps and spars with him.
The resilience of this shell-shocked little family is tested as both encounter and wrestle with their demons. Prominent is the minefield grief they both carry. But they also have monsters: Remy a beloved father who violently rejected his queer son; Pup an almost atavistic terror that has haunted his sleep since he was little, a gaping yaw of abandonment and need inhuman in its strength.
St. Croix’s brilliance is to bring these terrors front and center in a series of nightmares that bleed into ordinary life: vampires, werewolves and the gill creature are as real as high school bullies and victims. The playwright is also unafraid of taking his characters to the brink, a significant betrayal launches the heart-wrenching final scenes, when Pup’s wounds are finally lanced.
The propulsive engine of the Kitchen’s production are actors Darian Dauchan as Remy and Jackson Janowicz as Pup.
Dauchan wears Remy as though he were a second skin, gliding across the stage, scattering bright quips, striking a pose, glowing with paternal (maternal?) warmth. Yet his Remy is also full of pauses, confusion, hurt silences. A seamless performance.
Janowicz is pent-up furious anguish mixing with an almost guileless openness. Pup was something of a wild-child, growing up in the neglect of his addicted parents. Remy is the one anchor, the one who gets him. Janowicz manages the difficult job of mixing his love of Remy (and his dad) with his fury and disgust. The role calls for a tensile physicality; the actor proves an acrobat of both body and emotion.
Lampert has gathered a team of usual suspects for the show’s design. Tyler M. Perry provides scenery, lighting and projections. The rough and ready half of the mobile home (Pup’s bedroom and the comfy living room/kitchen) lies below the scaffolding, roof where the two watch the movies; a rough tin backdrop depicts shadows, storms, monsters. The lighting is fluid, a character in itself, well matched by Lesley Greene’s varied soundscape of contemporary beats, film music and horror effects. Lisa Boquist provides her always spot-on touch in costuming.
Only six performances remain. Don’t miss this gorgeous, vibrant drama.