Saturday, June 24, 2017

MONSTERS • Stray Dog Theatre

In an unfinished basement somewhere in St. Louis, Andi discovers her brother-in-law in her basement with a man, bound and gagged, and tied to a chair. This is the jumping off point for St. Louis playwright Stephen Peirick’s latest one-act comedy thriller, Monsters. It’s getting its world premiere after being introduced at a staged reading last year at Stray Dog’s New Works Laboratory. Though there are plans for further tweaks, the play is pretty good in its current form, showcasing Peirick’s trademark wit, unpredictable plots, and ear for comedic dialogue.

Davis (Jeremy Goldmeier) and Jeremy (Kevin O’Brien) are brothers, struggling to keep their late father’s debt-ridden diner afloat. Neither one is the sharpest knife in the drawer, so when a couple of diner regulars (members of the St. Louis mafia) offer to pay them $200,000 for a murder-for-hire scheme, they can’t bring themselves to say “no”, despite the fact that they have practically no idea whom they’re supposed to whack.

Jeremy (Kevin O'Brien), Davis (Jeremy Goldmeier)
and Andi (Sarajane Alverson).
Photo credit: John Lamb
A monkey wrench is thrown into their already half-baked plans when Davis's wife, Andi (Sarajane Alverson), a cosmetologist with something she’s keeping under wraps herself, unexpectedly stays home from work, and discovers Carl (Michael A. Wells) restrained downstairs, with Jeremy, clumsily trying to explain the situation. Andi’s sister, Piper (Eileen Engel), who’s out on parole, adds another wrinkle when she pops in to do her laundry. When Davis finally comes home, his desperate position gets worse after Andi shoots holes all up and down his strategy. That is, until she learns about the money that’s at stake.

Piper (Eileen Engel), Davis (Jeremy Goldmeier)
and Andi (Sarajane Alverson).
Photo credit: John Lamb
O’Brien does a great job as Jeremy -- a guileless kid in a grown man’s body, along with Goldmeier as Davis, who’s just this side of being the more responsible of the two brothers. Andi’s growing exasperation with her husband and brother-in-law’s ineptitude drive her to finally take things into her own hands, perfectly illustrated with Alverson’s acerbic delivery and body language. Engel’s detached sarcasm as Piper adds nicely to the mix, with Engel not letting a comic beat go by untouched. Then there’s Wells as poor Carl. He gets a great deal across, considering he doesn’t do much, except for trying desperately to inch his way across the floor when nobody’s looking towards any kind of weapon. When he does get to speak, he piles on another twist.

Gary F. Bell directs this new work with a skilled hand, keeping the audience on their toes in a play where everyone seems to be barreling head-first towards an impossibly bleak situation, with plenty of laughs to be had at this motley crew’s expense. While Monsters sits pretty solidly already, it could be a little tighter with a bit of trimming to eliminate some of the repetition in the script. Still, getting to see one of Peirick's plays is always a treat -- keep an eye out for his future work.

Jeremy (Kevin O'Brien)
and Davis (Jeremy Goldmeier).
Photo credit: John Lamb

Written by Stephen Peirick
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through June 24 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, additional performance 2pm Saturday, June 24

Andi: Sarajane Alverson 
Piper: Eileen Engel
Davis: Jeremy Goldmeier
Jeremy: Kevin O’Brien 
Carl: Michael A. Wells 

Stage Manager: Justin Been
Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Assistant Stage Manager: Robert M. Kapeller
Costume Designer: Gary F. Bell
Scenic Designer: Justin Been

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