It’s difficult to describe the plot of Tuesday Night Café’s (TNC) one-person show Monster in words without dwarfing the experience. Narratives and characters are intricately interwoven, all powerfully represented by actress and co-director Laura Orozco, and the play achieves a sense unity and commonality despite the seemingly different stories. The acting was both mesmerizing and nearly flawless. Combining the elements of performance and design with an innovative set, the production manages to present a disturbing, meaningful, and dark exposé on the lives of those struggling with their demons.
Pieced together by a narrator, the play familiarizes us with the stories of various individuals, couples, and families, with characters ranging from a troubled young boy to a depressed man and his girlfriend. The temporality of events is mingled and confusing, but brings with it a dawning realization of the interconnectivity of the characters for the audience. At the start, we are presented with the story of a boy who tortures and kills his father. Initially presented from an outsiders’ perspective, the script quickly plunges directly into this world of hurt, with the story focusing on his parents in their youth and their surroundings. The narrator consistently returns from his monologues of various identities to cynically and almost angrily tie the stories together.
Orozco’s depictions of multiple men and women is convincingly real. Her shaved head and juxtaposing delicate features manifest both a gruff and depressed man and a perky yet delusional woman. Orozco’s appropriately confused and awkward depiction of a boy torturing his father is disturbing in a way that makes your stomach ache and your eyes burn. The presence of only one body on the stage allows all eyes and attention to be focused and engaged. This perhaps alleviated some of the stress of following both character movement and a complex story line; though complex, it certainly is.
The set featured a semicircle of chairs, a podium, a table strewn with booze bottles, a rocking chair that had been accessorized with a table holding cookies and a glass of water, and most notably, a screen looming behind with a number of still images projected in unison with the stories. They aren’t telling images—depicting no more than the regular fixtures of a domestic environment—but when mixed with the bursting energy on stage, they explode into a visceral and all-consuming production. The sound effects are likewise elementary, but add to the eruption.
The play speaks to the devils inside all of us, affirming their existence, yet dealing with them in such a nuanced manner as to lead to no obvious, straightforward conclusion. Orozco’s performance, in combination with the set, creates a disturbing and dark scene. It was uncomfortable, taboo, and frankly, not for everyone. Some topics were so despondent that I felt they should not have been uttered—let alone embodied. It’s a performance that makes you think and ultimately feel. For many, this is undesirable, but as a work of art, it pushes boundaries and creates a passage for discourse about real world and existential issues—issues of mental illness, addiction, violence, identity, sense of purpose, and human nature. The production, however, leaves these issues open, and perhaps rightly so, as they contain no clear answers of hope, but serve as catalysts of highly important thought.
Monster runs from Oct. 22 to Oct. 25 at TNC Theatre (3485 McTavish) at 8 p.m. Student tickets are $6.