I’m at The Beehive with a friend for a post-show chat, when Santa comes over, points to my theater program, and asks how SpeakEasy Stage Company’s “Necessary Monsters” is. Turns out before Santa was Santa, he worked with both playwright John Kuntz and director David R. Gammons at another theater company about town, and he has nothing but positive things to say about the pair’s respective and collaborative works. Before he begins to be punched in the belly by a tike tyrant, I report to Mr. Claus that their reputations remain untarnished—“Necessary Monsters” is an eccentric, dark delight.
Like much of Kuntz’s work, the two-hour one act play is surreal and non-linear, challenging the audience from the moment they walk into the theater until the credits scroll. Don’t think I’ve flubbed the facts or that I’ve got my mediums twisted; there is no curtain call, no final bow. A reappearance of the triumphant eight-person ensemble cast (Kuntz among them) would have likely sparked a standing ovation from Sunday’s audience, but instead we hesitated and dithered about whether it was the right time to clap as we fumbled with our jackets and scarves, ready to turn to our neighbor and discuss the intertwined narratives, the souls on the road to tragedy.
Set in a cage that looks like one of Saw’s torture chambers, the players pantomime as the crowd files in: The cues of a flight attendant, licking, dancing, waving, whatevering—all of the motions and emotions foreshadow the stories to come. Not only the title of the play, “Necessary Monsters” is also the title of a bestselling novel, a noir film, a horror flick, and a child’s television show with a hot-tempered host, all of which is detailed in the show. These sub-narratives—which SpeakEasy has likened to nesting dolls—and their tropes-turned-punch-lines layered within the larger story allow for topics to skip and flip around. An Internet meet-and-fuck becomes a horror movie set, becomes an editing room, becomes a psychotherapist’s office, becomes a funeral, becomes a fundraising ball, and back again. The premise sounds messy, but the chaos is ordered as themes and casting are recycled, the repetition keeping the sharp turns from dicing the play into separate episodes. Also, smart set design and careful blocking keeps the constant use and disposal of props from unraveling like a dropped spool. Each piece does nestle in nicely next to the rest; as jarring as the transitions can be, they always feel right.
More than just an exercise in avant-imagination, “Necessary Monsters” is blisteringly funny and critical—a monologue from Thomas Derrah in drag as an aging, wealthy gossip-hound of a woman is worth the price of admission on its own. The dark humor, whether about privilege or reliance on pharmaceuticals, all dances around an overarching theme of human connection. In one scene, a couple meets for the first time and struggle through small talk. They seem to find common ground when they learn that neither is married, but things get weird when the guy introduces his stuffed monkey as a friend. They have sex anyways, both needing to touch and be touched.
To accidentally land at a family-friendly holiday party with a man in a Santa suit after the show feels surreal. In immediate juxtaposition, it feels more artificial than the wacky, wicked world that Kuntz and Gammons have dreamed up onstage. Plan accordingly — “Necessary Monsters” will stay with you.