Kevin Crowley has a dark perspective. Each of the pieces that he’s written that I’ve had the privilege of seeing produced have been bleak, complex, and a little depressing. But yet, somewhere in there he finds some light. In SARGE, he manages to take a woman who most people would despise because of what her husband has been accused of and magnifies her humanity, making her likable. In THE RIVERSIDE, he shows the love between families is sometimes clouded by our personal demons. And in THE MONKEYS PAW, he takes a terrible tragedy and pokes fun at it with the blackest humor seen in Cincinnati since THE HOUSE OF YES.
Dylan Shelton plays “Mike” and Carol Brammer is “Tish;” a couple who has lost their only son. She can’t leave the house (just in case he comes home) and he can’t . . . well, he can’t do anything. Mike might be the most despicable, unlikable character ever written and Shelton plays him without remorse. Brammer, on the other hand, is sympathetic. She’s pretty normal, really, and you do question why on earth she would have stayed with Mike all these years . . . but then again, if she can’t leave the house, she certainly can’t leave him. And he’s not going anywhere, either. Brammer plays the role straight, using the gifts that she has an actress to bring strength to characters who on the surface don’t seem so. Tish has an inner-strength and her therapist is slowly pulling it out despite Mike’s objectives. You want to root for her; on the other hand, I wanted really bad things to happen to Mike. He’s just awful.
Mike is a ridiculous character; Tish is more real. I think this might be why I struggled so much to fully connect with the play on an emotional level. That said, I laughed a lot at things that I should feel guilty about. Those are the best kinds of black comedies; they sneak up on you, make you guffaw and then hide your face in shame.
I’ve often expressed a theory that men are afraid of babies until they are about four years old; we don’t know what to do with people who can’t talk or express themselves. Crowley in his program notes admits that this story is based on his own insecurities and feelings as a father with a difficult child. I think he and I are on the same page in regards to the “nuture-phobia” many fathers have. But he then takes it way over the top, perhaps in the hopes that we can find comfort that we aren’t so bad. I wonder, though, if mainstream audiences are able to see that or if they just dismiss this as a weird play.
THE MONKEYS PAW is certainly not boring and there are many themes in the story that I’m glad are being discussed. I hope that Cincinnati audiences can embrace such a quirky piece. I’m glad I saw it.