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The Monument

Colleen Wagner's two-hander about a war criminal's unusual fate is well-meaning and well-produced, but too heavy-handed for its own good. logo
Ramona Floyd and Jay Rohloff in The Monument
(© Anthony Collins)
Colleen Wagner's rather lumbering play The Monument, first written for Canadian television about a decade ago, begins with a startling image: a man strapped in an electric chair, waiting for death. A single lightbulb hangs above his head, straining to illuminate a darkness that even Joseph Conrad would find daunting -- and we're not talking about the darkness on stage. This is a play about the unspeakable evil that happens in war.

The lightbulb buzzes and blinks as the hum of electricity reminds us that the switch might be thrown at any moment. The man, whose name is Stetko (Jay Rohloff), slowly reveals his crimes. At first, he sounds like a serial killer; but as more details emerge, it turns out that he is a bona-fide war criminal who raped and murdered more than 20 women. He is not sorry for what he did. As far as he's concerned, it was war and most of his crimes occurred in the company of his fellow soldiers. Unfortunately for both the play and the audience, Stetko is written as too much of a sick puppy. Yes, his emotional problems run frighteningly deep, but The Monument would be much more effective if our perp was a seemingly normal guy.

A woman dressed in black, Mejra (Ramona Floyd), appears as Stetko wraps up his tale of terror. Soon the play becomes something less than realistic and something more like a bleak fairy tale. Mejra offers Stetko a Mephistophelean choice: He can either die in the chair or become her slave, taking her every abuse without complaint. Having nothing to lose, he chooses the latter.

But who is Mejira? An avenging angel? A supernatural creature? She certainly can't be an ordinary farm woman. What court in what world would give up a convicted war criminal to a private citizen? Only a court that's a figment of a playwright's imagination. So bid reality goodbye and enter the world of political theater. Mejra is indeed a farm woman, albeit one who is mighty tough and almighty mean. She could be an avenging angel after all.

Her cold blue flame of anger keeps Stetko burning on a spit as she beats him and threatens him with worse. Slowly, something human sparks inside the man, and Mejra can see it. Still, her fury is not assuaged -- not yet. She is a woman on a mission, and that mission must be served.

One can hardly be against the content of this play (remembrances of war victims), but the fact that Wagner is well-meaning only gets her so far. As it is, this production gets farther than it should thanks to Beverly Brumm's spacious direction, designer Efren Delgadillo, Jr.'s engaging, sandy set, and Herculean performances by the two actors. They do carry the show. In the end, The Monument may raise your consciousness, but you will likely wonder why it doesn't make you weep.

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