Review: Play with Monsters by Solo Collective Theatre
Play with Monsters, the latest work from celebrated local playwright Aaron Bushkowsky, is a quirky and absurd tale about parents, children, and the multitude of ways they manage to misunderstand, disappoint, and coexist.
At the onset our protagonist and narrator Drew (Andrew McNee) warns us he possesses an overactive imagination and that his retelling may not perfectly reflect how events transpired in real life. With this proviso in place, the action begins to play out in a linear but surreal fashion. The storytelling style is reminiscent of dream-logic, with scenes jumping location or forward in time without explanation; despite their fantastic nature, these developments are accepted without comment or surprise by the characters.
Drew begins by giving us the backstory of his father, a sommelier named Bill (played by Bill Dow), and his restaurant owning mother Karen (played by Karin Konoval). In spite of their best efforts, Drew becomes a car thief and goes to jail, at which point his mother decides to leave his father. When Drew is released, he decides to bond with his father by taking him on a wine-tasting trip to France. Here, his father falls in love with a vineyard owner and Drew falls in love with Lily (Josette Jorge), a young Asian women trying to purchase the winery. Then a ninja runs across the stage…
From this point on the dreamlike atmosphere intensifies and a rapid series of scenarios play out: Drew’s parents come back as zombies, Lily’s father (Hiro Kanagawa) vacillates between being a ninja and serving as Drew’s psychologist ‘Dr. Who,’ Drew goes to work at the family restaurant, and the climax brings us back to the French vineyard that Lily now owns. It is all a bit dizzying and one cannot help but feel that, like a dream, the events are merely symbols representing a deeper, more complex message.
In this case, the message seems to be that happiness is only achievable by letting go of the expectations and baggage that the older generation has placed upon us. It is only when Drew accepts his parents’ disappointment in him – and he in them – and only after Lily stops trying to meet her father’s exacting standards, that the two are able to enjoy their ‘happily ever after’. For one of the first generations who will earn less than their parents, this is a fitting and timely sentiment.
Drama is not just about the message itself, however, but the challenges the hero overcomes to arrive at it. In the play’s climactic moment, when Drew’s zombified parents attack him, it is not Drew himself that overcomes them, but Lily’s ninja father. It is stirring and visually spectacular, but having a girlfriend’s dad fight his battle does not feel perfectly aligned with the greater message and story arc.
Director Rachel Peake very aptly describes Play with Monsters as a puzzle in her program notes. It is a fun, complex work that does present a clear, coherent message, but challenges the audience to analyze and assemble its various components to arrive at their own conclusions.