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Daniel Roberts' maddening, overstuffed play has way too many subplots. logo
Stuart Rudin and Jason Blaine
in Monsterface
(© Monique Carboni)
Ambition outstrips execution in Daniel Roberts' overstuffed play Monsterface, now at the Irish Arts Center, which careens like a runaway train from theme to theme, as well as subplot to subplot, without ever quite coming together as an organic whole.

: Paul Crane (Ted Schneider) is devoted to his unstable actress wife, Melanie (Sarah Grace Wilson), whom he has brought back to her childhood home in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile Melanie's sister, Maggie (Anna Wood), is trying to seduce Paul. In the midst of this family drama, Paul is involved in a takeover of an historic Inn in New Hope -- where a young, somewhat slow, and innocent worker named Mickey (Jason Blaine) becomes a pawn in a sexual battle between Paul and his wife.

But wait, there's more! Back at the Inn, the crusty old owner (Stuart Rudin), who dresses up like George Washington for historical re-enactments and speaks like an 18th-Century country gentleman, has a story of his own. There is also a pushy backstage mother (played by Karen Lynn Gorney of Saturday Night Fever fame), the voice of a creepy psychiatrist, and an imaginary turtle.

Subplots are not the only thing that run wild in this maddening play. In order to make a variety of points, the playwright wildly overuses the famous painting of "George Washington Crossing The Delaware," which hangs on the wall of Paul and Melanie's living room, as well as in the Inn. The painting is referred to over and over again. At first, it's a metaphor. Then, it becomes an obsession. After that, its constant use is just plain bad writing.

With so much going on in Monsterface, the play tends to lose focus on its most endearing and, presumably, most central theme: a love so deep that even the possibility that the two lovers will never be together again can destroy their emotional bond. That's a rather romantic notion, so to make it seem less syrupy, the playwright adds a secret that seems gratuitously ugly (and is also the source of the play's misleadingly unpleasant title).

The work gets little help from director Alex Lippard, who stages scenes with a heavy hand. In particular, Wilson is directed to overact her mental illness, while much of the cast is asked to give similarly over-the-top performances. Only Schneider keeps it real, and Blaine imbues his quirky character with innocent charm.

Also avoiding the wreckage are set designer Michael V. Moore and costume designer Kirche Leigh Seile, both of whom provide good work -- but not enough to save this debacle.

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