Casting agent alert: this company of young singer/dancer/musician/actors is one of the best multi-talented groups I’ve seen in a long time.
The press release for Monstress says we’re watching a group of front porch southerners (Appalachians?) reinterpret Greek myths. I’m afraid, despite a poetic script and engaging musical opening, we’re not aware that’s what’s happening.
Titus Tompkins as T and Jianzi Colón-Soto as Echidna
In the beginning, sky and time are born. Music is infectious, vocals excellent, broken up introduction difficult to follow and occasionally compounded by speed and music, hard to understand. While a Greek Chorus is apt, the audience needs to get its bearings.
During the play, we watch scenarios featuring: Mother Nyx – a primordial god and mother of Sleep and Death; Echidna and T – mother and father of all monsters including Medusa, Sphinx (Phix), and Cerberus; Sirens who lure sailors to ocean death; the Graeae – blind sea goddesses; Sphinx, who preys on all who can’t solve her riddle; and Medusa, born a mortal but cursed into a snake-haired monster whose gaze turns people to stone.
Philip Estrera as Catch with Allison Kelly, Adam Boggs McDonald and Rheanna Atendido as The Sirens
Even having read the crib sheet, following who’s who from scene to scene is a challenge. More identification would help particularly where creatures are related in blood or story. Some songs seem unrelated to narrative. “Fireflies”?
On the plus side, the coarse relationship between Echidna and T arrests and affects; Medusa’s attitude, especially listing her skills before she was beheaded – “I used to play the banjo, I was a pretty good cook…” – is inspired; Sirens’ dialogue, both among themselves and with a weary traveler, is droll and canny; that Phix offers her victims White Lightening (they never refuse) and her looking for “heroes” i.e. exceptions, are nifty conceits as is Ed’s final response: “As long as I got my gun, that will always be the answer”… Slipping in contemporary mores is insidiously well managed.
Olivia Billings, Rheanna Atendido, and Jianzi Colón-Soto as The Gray
Monstress is ambitious, fascinating, entertaining and confusing. One hopes playwright Emily Kitchens continues to develop and refine this piece.
Jianzi Colón-Soto (Echidna of the Mines) and her primal lover T (Titus Tompkins) are superb. Violence, desire, and possession erupt vocally (one fears for voices), physically, and chemically. Tompkins is also a fine musician.
Philip Estrera is a splendid actor and marvelous fiddle player.
As the Sirens, Rheanna Atendido (who additionally imbues Medusa with exhaustion, frustration, and resignation), Allison Kelly (also plays cool bass), and Adam Boggs McDonald (who later showcases skill with a Spiritual) delight.
Natalie Hegg’s Phix is worthy of the Greeks. She’s fiery, evil, and calculating. Hegg also acts as dialogue consultant. Southern accents are thoroughly appealing.
Director Hondo Weiss-Richmond employs his company to move sets with fluency. Performances are wonderful, multi-talented actors focused. Symbiotic movement twines its way through the script. Caveats: We’re so long in the dark at the show’s start (as the world begins) I thought someone missed a cue, and staging anything on the side steps means only your first row has clear view.
Olivia Palacios’ choreography is outstanding. From the rough wrestle of sex to expressive synchronized movement, even a man gradually turned to stone, the work is captivating and imaginative.
Set design by Jiaying Zhang and costumes by Sera Bourgeau are a testament to how clever and evocative one can be without spending money.
Country music is pleasing except for a saxophone which seems like it belongs in another genre.
Photos by Al Foote
Opening: Natalie Hegg as Phix
Hunger & Thirst Theatre presents
Monstress by Emily Kitchens
Original bluegrass and country music by Ben Quinn and Titus Tompkins
Music Direction by Titus Tompkins
Directed by Hondo Weiss-Richmond
New Ohio Theatre
154 Christopher Street