Whatever playwright Mike Petty's intended objective, the most discernible impetus for tortured artist Davidson McLean (Marc Colson) to hang himself within the first few minutes of "In Walked Monk" would be to avoid spending a "long weekend" with his insufferable former college pals, Steven (Jamie Denton), Sherman (Eric Saiet), Bowie (Eric Zudak) and Corliss (Sara Devlin).

Whatever playwright Mike Petty’s intended objective, the most discernible impetus for tortured artist Davidson McLean (Marc Colson) to hang himself within the first few minutes of “In Walked Monk” would be to avoid spending a “long weekend” with his insufferable former college pals, Steven (Jamie Denton), Sherman (Eric Saiet), Bowie (Eric Zudak) and Corliss (Sara Devlin). Petty has fashioned a meandering and unrewarding “Big Chill”-esque sojourn into the cathartic, post-mortem musings of four former art students-turned thirtysomething yuppies after the best of them has taken his life. The work is further undermined by James Warwick’s awkward, unfocused staging and an uneven ensemble that rarely connects beyond waiting for each other to get their lines out.

Set in McLean’s San Francisco-based art studio/apartment on the morning of the planned reunion with the aforementioned quartet, Colson’s opening moments of emotionally charged, self-annihilating soliloquy, followed by his all-too-vividly enacted noose-drop, are the high points of the work. The remaining two hours deflate through a series of redundant, overly wordy scenes centering on government employee Steven’s inability to come to terms with McLean’s death and his own unfulfilled life.

Insinuating themselves into Steven’s weekend of grief and renewal are McLean’s raging, self-protective roommate Barrett (Tina Van Berckelaer) and Steven’s perennial girlfriend/fiancee Corliss (Sara Devlin). Complicating but not enhancing the proceedings are the sometimes comical comings and goings of catty, homosexual lawyer Sherman and simple-minded, valium-loving Bowie.

Denton is quite believable as the failed art protege who likens his artistic abilities to being a competent “classical pianist trying to play jazz like Thelonius Monk.” But there is simply not enough evolution and tangible growth to his character to warrant the playwright’s designation that this man, after three days of self-scrutiny, is ready to give up his cushy government job, throw over Corliss, fall in love with misanthropic Barrett, take up residence in McLean’s studio and start cleaning art brushes in anticipation of discovering his own “Monk” within.

In the first act, Berckelaer’s over-the-top Barrett appears to be haranguing the people on the next corner rather than those on stage with her. She is much more effective in her later, one-on-one dealings with Steven as the two are drawn together by their mutual recognition of the essence of McLean’s life and need for death. Devlin (subbing for Jenna Lyn Ward) never achieves any level of comfort as the ice princess WASP lawyer Corliss. The entrances and exits of Saiel’s Sherman and Zudak’s Bowie are usually out of sync with the onstage action.

Mark Fenlason’s scenic design fails to evoke any kind of believable environment, let alone the studio/residence of a world famous artist, no matter how tortured he was.

In Walked Monk

Hudson Guild Mainstage Theatre: 99 seats; $20 top

Production

The Bulldog Co. presents a play in two acts by Mike Petty, directed by James Warwick. Executive producer, L. Scott LeGrand; producer, Bruce Heller.

Cast

Davidson McLean - Marc Colson Steven - Jamie Denton Sherman - Eric Saiet Barrett - Tina Van Berckelaer Bowie - Eric Zudak Corliss - Sara Devlin
Scenic design, Mark Fenlason; lighting design, Maura H. McGuiness; costume design, Victoria Herd. Opened Sept. 10, 1999; reviewed Sept. 25; runs until Oct. 24. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.
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