Daniel MacIvor and Daniel Brooks have gazed deep into the midnight of the soul, and the view is anything but pretty.
In this, the third in a series of one-man shows, MacIvor and Brooks have moved into the horror genre currently pulsing through both film and theater, and “from that darkness come I, a young man who hacks his father to death limb by limb and tucks the parts into a box labeled ‘some assembly required.’ ”
But unlike so many other toilers in the genre, MacIvor and Brooks want to do more than deliver shock theater; they try to grapple with why such evil exists. A carefully built story that travels through generations of abuse and highlights the social rejection of those who are different, “Monster” combines chills with analysis. This, along with a great sense of style, is what makes MacIvor and Brooks’ work special.
MacIvor single-handedly portrays not only the warring couple who later become the parents of the kid who kills his dad, but the slasher himself and a roomful of characters at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. What’s so compelling is the way in which he digs deep into the psyche of each one, and with a deft verbal or physical stroke, the characters spring to life fully formed. The economy of both the writing and performance bring to mind an artist who creates an expressive face on paper with a single line or two.
During the 80 minutes of “Monster,” except for one moment when MacIvor goes off to fetch his only prop, a highball glass, he remains rooted to one spot on the stage. Quick shifts of light by Andy Moro and an atmospheric sound score by Richard Feren, as well as shifts in body weight and gestures such as the rolling up of his sleeves, are all thetools MacIvor uses. If nothing else, this is a cleansing antidote for spectacle theater, all the more so because the technical work is sophisticated without being showy.
“Monster” begins by turning the theater into a movie house. Out of the darkness, an amplified voice urges the audience to “ssshhh” because the film is about to begin. Suddenly MacIvor emerges in a stark angular white light to harangue the audience. The emotional connections drawn between this abuse directed at viewers and that suffered by the slasher kid in the play is just one example of the brilliant way in which the playwrights remind their audience that the horror is real.
In the same way, the framework of the film in the opening moments later evolves into a storyline in which one of the characters sells a script whose climax is the murder of the father. Tiny plot threads are constantly dropped and then carefully picked up and woven back in, so that by the end there is a satisfying sense of completion.
But maybe the most impressive achievement of all is that MacIvor and Brooks have created a work packaged in contemporary thrill-and-chill sensibilities without succumbing to the genre themselves: “Monster” is a frightening look into the jaws of hell, but it also offers a place from which to begin scrambling out. And oh, yes, it’s occasionally very funny.