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Chasing Monsters

The real mystery in "Chasing Monsters," a world premiere play at the Westport Country Playhouse that's being billed as "an eerie mystery-drama," is why anyone believed it was ready to be put into production. Kevin Rehac's play, concerning a Loch Ness-like monster in a lake in the Adirondacks, has barely begun to be thought through. Neither eerie nor mysteriously dramatic, it mires its cast and director in a no-win situation that includes an out-of-the-blue ending that does nothing to satisfactorily resolve anything that has gone before.

With:
Margery Kendall ..... Michael Learned Jack Carlson ..... Ralph Waite Carolyn Nast ..... Jenna Stern Allan Nast ..... Victor Slezak

The real mystery in “Chasing Monsters,” a world premiere play at the Westport Country Playhouse that’s being billed as “an eerie mystery-drama,” is why anyone believed it was ready to be put into production. Kevin Rehac’s play, concerning a Loch Ness-like monster in a lake in the Adirondacks, has barely begun to be thought through. Neither eerie nor mysteriously dramatic, it mires its cast and director in a no-win situation that includes an out-of-the-blue ending that does nothing to satisfactorily resolve anything that has gone before.

Rehac’s theatrical experience includes acting, directing and working as a theatrical publicist, but as a playwright he has a great deal to learn. Neither the plot nor characters of “Chasing Monsters” are believable, and the play is further marred by a clumsy structure.

The first act takes place in the lakeside home of Margery Kendall (Michael Learned). Seems that Margery and her late husband saw a monster in the lake. She believes it was responsible for her husband’s death, apparently in the lake; his body has never been recovered. (Lest we assume that the sorrowful monster is simply a symbol for Margery’s grief, sad moans keep assuring us of its reality.) The locals think she’s crazy and a threat to property values now that she has taken up year-round occupancy of her summer home and continues to attempt to prove the reality of the monster.

The awkwardly conceived second act seesaws between Margery’s house, where her estranged daughter Carolyn (Jenna Stern) arrives, followed by her hyper husband Allan (Victor Slezak), and a boat on the lake in which Margery and Jack (Ralph Waite), her aged bachelor neighbor, are cutely courting. It’s dramatically clumsy, with the boat being obviously pushed on and off by a visible stagehand.

Over the course of the second act, mother and next-door-neighbor grow closer while Carolyn’s marriage breaks up: She finally decides to stop supporting her less artistically talented husband by working in an office and vows to pursue an artistic career herself.

But characters and situations never ring true, and “Chasing Monsters” feels stillborn. Perhaps that’s why the contributions of the cast and director sometimes lack sufficient energy and projection, with both Learned and Waite (together again after their partnership in the TV classic “The Waltons”) being too low-key.

Chasing Monsters

(DRAMA; WESTPORT COUNTRY PLAYHOUSE; 706 SEATS; $ 31.50 TOP)

Production: WESTPORT, Conn. A Connecticut Theater Foundation presentation of a play in two acts by Kevin Rehac. Directed by Sabin Epstein.

Crew: Set, Richard Ellis; costumes , Randy Blair; lighting, Susan Roth; sound, Bruce Ellman; production stage manager, Neil Krasnow. Connecticut Theater Foundation executive producer, James B. McKenzie. Opened July 19, 1999. Reviewed July 22. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

With: Margery Kendall ..... Michael Learned Jack Carlson ..... Ralph Waite Carolyn Nast ..... Jenna Stern Allan Nast ..... Victor Slezak

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