Monsoon Season and the Poor Slobs in the Mirror
Lizzie Vieh's horror-comedy two-hander comes to New York.
Danny is suffering from sleep deprivation. He has just moved into an apartment in Phoenix, and the pulsating sign for the strip club on the other side of the parking lot is keeping him up. As someone who works in Times Square, I can attest to the maddening effects of hours of exposure to flashing lights, but Danny's problems seems to run a lot deeper than a lack of sleep and a glut of neon stimuli. He's one of two uncomfortably familiar, completely unhinged characters in Lizzie Vieh's Monsoon Season, a comedy so black, you might just feel guilty for laughing so hard.
The other character is Danny's ex-wife, Julia (Therese Plaehn). She got the house, which is why Danny (Richard Thierot) has moved in across from the strip joint. He occasionally visits the club when he's not working his tech-support job, or picking up an Uber shift to make child-support payments. But when he learns that Julia is shacking up with a 6'4" drug dealer named Shane, his jealousy leads him to increasingly erratic behavior. He wonders if a grand gesture will be just the thing to win Julia back.
Kristin McCarthy Parker cleverly directs Danny's delusional rom-com like the horror story it actually is. Sarah Johnston's spooky synthetic lighting and Emma Wilk's distorted dance music (for when Julia hits the clubs) all contribute to the mounting terror that finds its zenith in one extraordinary costume by Haydee Zelideth. All of this might leave you asking: If it's so creepy, why are we laughing?
It's because Thierot and Plaehn are giving two of the funniest performances currently on any stage in New York. Danny's aggressive niceness slowly fades to desperation of the most ridiculous sort: "Hola, Shane," he speaks into his work headset using a voice changer and a terrible Mexican accent, "I'm watching you, pendejo." Encrusted blood stains his polo shirt, the evidence of a regular nosebleed. As Danny, Thierot plays the quintessential psychopath who fancies himself a "nice guy."
A giant fountain soda in hand, Plaehn has a way of making every line hilarious, even when what she's saying is just plain awful. "I'd rather kill myself than wind up like that poor slob in the mirror," she tells us, recalling how a glance at her reflection at the pharmacy convinced her that she needed to leave Danny. Both Thierot and Plaehn affect crazy, bulging eyes that make you hang onto every word they're saying and hope that this isn't the kind of play that breaks the fourth wall.
Between the two of them, it's easy to forget that there is a third person in this family: Danny and Julia's daughter, Samantha. Scenic designer You-Shin Chen suggests her presence through well-selected clutter. Among other things, we see Barbie precariously leaning over the balcony of her Dreamhouse, a molded plastic metaphor for the American middle class.
The play is being produced under the banner of All for One Theater, a company dedicated to the production of solo shows. Monsoon Season, with its two actors, isn't strictly solitaire — but it seems significant that both Danny and Julia perform as if they are the only ones onstage. They directly address the audience, partake in one-sided phone calls, and only appear alone: When one actor takes the stage, the other leaves. In presenting two characters that seems incapable of directly communicating with one another, Vieh isn't just indicting one incompatible couple, but the all-encompassing narcissism of our age.
It is unsurprising when we learn of Julia's fledgling career as a YouTube influencer who does makeup tutorials. "I just want to be famous," she whines. "I want people to be jealous of me. Is that so much to ask?" She may be extraordinarily awful, but her desires are alarmingly common — visible for all to see as we scroll through our newsfeeds at night and try to fall asleep.