Friday, May 20, 2011

See This Show Before It Disappears

Monkey Wrench
Through June 7
Phyllis Nagy
Dave Barton
Fullerton, CA
Fri. 8 , Sat. 7
Sun. 2 PM
Five Scoops of Bosco

Reviewed By
Allen Bacon
The Daily Bosco

There is a running theme in many of Los Angeles-based playwright Phyllis Nagy's plays of people losing their identities, feeling unfulfilled and wanting to just vanish. Her characters are frequently complicated souls. But mostly highly identifiable. We know these people. We may even be one of these people. The challenge when a company performs her work is bringing these complexities and nuances of the characters to light in a palatable way.

The Monkey Wrench Collective's latest, Nagy's 1995 play Disappeared meets and exceeds all expectations. The play runs through May 22 at the Monkey Wrench Theater on Harbor Blvd. in Fullerton.

First of all Nagy's story of Sarah Casey (Jennifer Pierce) a young woman, unhappy and feeling unfulfilled with her life grips you from the very beginning. Sarah disappears after meeting and leaving a bar in the Hell's Kitchen district of New York with a suspicious character, an odd Thrift Store worker and a pathological liar named Elston (played wonderfully by Robert Dean Nunez).

Elston takes on the personalities of the people's clothes he "borrows" and brags to Sarah and the bartender Jack (Christopher Basile) that he has actually killed more than one person in his life.

This plays like a noir mystery. Did Sarah just disappear or is there something sinister about this disappearance? Is Elston the killer? Is the ex-boyfriend, the bartender, a suspect? He was after all one of the last people to see her.

But this we quickly find out is only one aspect of Nagy's tale because on a totally different level we end up exploring the lives of not only Sarah and Elston but of the bartender, the detective, the thrift shop owner, the guys who Elston impersonates while wearing their clothes, Sarah's mom Ellen and Sarah's boyfriend Anthony. And we discover something very interesting...a common thread running between all of the characters.

The layout of the MWC theater stage lends itself well to this play. We want to really see these characters more and want to be so close we can almost touch them and see every nuance of their expressions.

A simple but wonderful set design by Basile, and a pinpoint direction of the actors by Dave Barton make this play a visual work of art. Barton has also created a great soundtrack of early to mid-60's pop tunes that add to this production starting with the Turtle's "Elenore" coming from a juke box at the beginning of the show. Barton's lighting and sound design is put to good effect down to the very last scene which we will not reveal but let's just say he uses the natural sound of Harbor Blvd. where the theater is located to good effect.

One of Monkey Wrench Theater's commitments in their mission statement is to "expect theater that asks more from you than just a plesant night out." Their rendition of Disappeared does just that.

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