Sunday, March 18, 2012

Theatre review: "The Monster in The Hall" : Sunday 18th March 2012

The Monster in the Hall may sound like a title for a horror movie but in fact it’s for a highly original, imaginative, zippy, charming play by Scotland’s David Greig. The title refers to a real motorcycle called The Ducati Monster. There’s an unrepaired wreck of one sitting inside the home of Duke Macatarsney and his daughter Duck. She’s even named for that machine. Clearly, considering where the wreck is placed, it is central to their lives. But further it has symbolic meaning, implying a different kind of wreck, Duke and Duck struggling with the monstrosity of his Multiple Sclerosis.

Aye, this sounds like a dark tale. Oddly, though, it’s not. Although the situation could be tragic, Greig instead has made it life-affirming, full of goofiness and fun with only a few sidelong glances at anything serious. You’ll come away marvelously entertained, especially given Sheila McKenna’s multiple turns as different women, sometimes back to back. At the same time, director Tracey Brigden and movement master Tomè Cousin wonderfully fill the stage with all kinds of physical activity. E.g. The cast dances and sings songs by Eric Shimelonis, blind Duke stumbles all over a tiny kitchen in a disastrous attempt to make macaroni and cheese, everybody whizzes along in a motorcycle chase or things get farcical with two doors into and out of which McKenna pops as two different people.

As for what’s at the center: Duke has brought up Duck ever since her ma died in a wild motorcycle ride. Duke, a one time Hell’s Angel, is on the verge of going to heaven, suffering the hell of increasingly failing health. However he remains sustained by beer, pot, an active on-line fantasy life and by Duck’s attempts to take care of him. They celebrate what they have instead of bemoaning what’s missing. Three people surge into their lives, a social worker who wants to save Duck, a woman named Agnetha, a salty, socialist visitor from across the sea and Lawrence, one of Duck’s classmates who needs a sexual favor to counter the impression that’s he’s gay.

Greig’s script calls for a variety of novel elements such as scenes suggesting computer games, or those delving into Duck’s fantasy of becoming a media star or being visited by The Catastrophe Fairy. And Greig ingeniously shows both father and daughter finding solace in a variety of fantasies.

David Whalen further proves his talent for playing character roles and for mastering physical comedy. His Duke bounces along with sass in the songs, he pantomimes all kinds of business with unerring skill and yet he leaves room to show genuine tenderness for beloved daughter, Duck.

In that role visiting actress Melinda Helfrich completely conveys the girl’s youthful charm, vulnerability and intelligence while visitor Matt Dengler gets Lawrence just right, and equally well doubles and triples in other small roles. Both also sing and dance with polish.

As for Shiela Mckenna, she plays a whole bunch of roles with non-stop vitality, keeping the heady pace which everyone keeps, making the whole experience a non-stop delight.

The Monster in the Hall
continues through April 1st at City Theatre 1300 Bingham Street on Pittsburgh’s South Side 412.431.CITY (2489) or

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