by Lynn on November 24, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Factory Theatre, Studio, Toronto, until Dec. 10, 2023.

Written by Daniel MacIvor

Directed by Soheil Parsa

Set, props and lighting by Trevor Schwellnus

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Wardrobe stylist, Allie Marshall

Cast: Karl Ang

Haunting, chilling, beautifully directed and a performance by Karl Ang that is astonishing.

The Story. The simple outline from the Factory Theatre website: “Monster peels back the psychological layers of 16 different characters to reveal the dark heart of individual experience. With a masterful blend of suspense, humor, and raw emotion, Monster invites you to confront your fears and embrace the complexities that make us human.” There are characters ground down by life, circumstance, parental cruelty and an overwhelming need for revenge. One scene is particularly brutal.

The Production. The production starts in darkness. An angry voice tells someone to shut up (adding an insulting epithet) as the movie is about to begin. Is he a monster? Over the course of the 75 minutes of the play we will meet an array of people who angry, insulting, condescending, abusive and behave badly in various ways. Does that make them monsters?

Trevor Schwellnus has designed a simple set of a bare stage with a bank of eight lights at the back of the stage. The lights go up and illuminate Karl Ang, a young man in a sweater and pants. He is personable, charming, curious and at this point, certainly not the angry man in the dark. Or is he?

Over the course of the play Ang will play all the characters, both men and women. With a subtle movement of one finger around the ear he becomes a sweet woman putting her hair around her ear to keep it off her face. The voice is light and lilting. He changes from a supportive partner to her irritated boyfriend who just wants to be left alone. Then the tone is sharp, the voice is deep and commanding. It’s an effort for the character to contain his irritation for this woman and this time. Names of the various characters wiz through the air: Al, Dave, Janine, Pam, “Boil Boy,” and much more.

Karl Ang gives an astonishing performance. There is nuance, subtlety, variation in body language, voice, expression and vigor.  He shifts from one character to another with ease and a clear sense of who each character is. It all seems effortless. Each character is full bodied.

Soheil Parsa directs Monster with exquisite invention, control, imagination and a ramped pace that keeps one breathless. He creates scenes that could be in the movies, watching horror, with lighting capturing the nuances in the performance. At times Trevor Schwellnus’ lighting makes Karl Ang look forbidding, he is surrounded by such shadows and bright light. You are convinced that here is a monster. In other softer light, Ang’s features are pleasant, calming, inviting. Between this gifted actor and his equally gifted director, we are kept unbalanced as to whom we will meet next. At one point the scope of the play expands out away from the 16 characters we will meet, to encompass an angry world. This is established by Thomas Ryder Payne’s chilling soundscape of bombs dropping somewhere not getting louder and closer, but present. In our fractured world, this adds another example of a “monster.”

Playwright Daniel MacIvor weaves compelling, intricate stories of the various characters and the experiences they endure. Sometimes the result is anger, sometimes revenge. Each story is carefully crafted with characters fully detailed and created. There are the women who love their angry partners, who stay the course, who calm them down and convince them that a life together is better than apart.

It’s like MacIvor is creating an intricate spider web and the audience is mesmerized watching as each delicate strand is created joining the various other strands. In a way the audience is drawn into the web until we aren’t sure where we are or to whose story we are listening. This isn’t a fault of the writing. It’s one of its many strengths—to keep the audience unsettled until the very end. And when we hear the conclusion of the final story, in a way a beginning, the result is jaw dropping.

Comment. Monster is a play written by a playwright at the top of his game, directed by a masterful director, guiding his equally gifted actor. Well worth a visit for people serious about theatre.

Factory Theatre Presents:

Opened: Nov. 22, 1923.

Closes: Dec. 10, 2023.

Running time: 75 minutes (no intermission)

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