'Monster' intense, but hollow

March 21, 1998|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At the heartless heart of Daniel MacIvor's "Monster" is a primal scene that makes his one-man show at the Theatre Project merit its title: An angry boy attacks his father at home, cuts off his limbs, but then somehow keeps dad's head and torso alive for several days by feeding him spaghetti.

It's a scene right out of a horror movie. Come to think of it, it somewhat resembles Jennifer Lynch's 1993 movie "Boxing Helena," which involved a man's obsessive interest in spending time with a woman missing her arms and legs. Although "Monster" doesn't directly refer to that particular film, MacIvor's theater script does play like a hip horror movie.

His interlocked monologues present a series of characters whose real-life anxieties find imaginative expression through their varying degrees of involvement in a movie about a father hacked up by his son. Piecing together the connections between the characters and the movie scenario is metaphorically akin to putting dad's dismembered body back together again. Not a pretty sight.

Not that there's messy stage blood. The violence is entirely verbal, and it all comes from the mouth of the man playing these multiple roles. The pale-faced Mac-Ivor seems even whiter because of the harsh stage light illuminating his broad face and his all-black wardrobe. Is this guy related to Christopher Walken? The unforgiving light also projects -MacIvor's silhouetted image against a rectangle of light, evocative of a movie screen, on the theater's otherwise black back wall.

A gifted mimic who can shift from one character to the next with razor-sharp efficiency, Mac-Ivor immerses us in an intense if rather murky and ponderous psychodrama. Its linear plot line doesn't matter so much as the recurring thematic mentions of how dysfunctional relationships between parents and their offspring are played out. Whether he's portraying a bored teen-ager, frustrated moviemaker, troubled alcoholic or wannabe pregnant woman at any given moment, issues of reproductive and artistic creation are mulled over at a fever pitch.

If you're wondering what sort of sensibility concocted this "Monster," think about the sicko humor in the Coen Brothers' "Fargo" and then take your thoughts even farther north. MacIvor and his director, Daniel Brooks, are with the Toronto-based theater company Da Da Kamera. That's right, they're from Canada, whose recent exports included David Cronenberg's 1996 movie "Crash." Must be something in the cold air.

Although having Baltimore as the host of the American premiere of "Monster" is a cutting-edge treat, enhanced by Mac-Ivor's fierce devotion to the ghoulishly funny material, the play suffers from a hipper-than-thou sensibility in which the surface cleverness can't entirely conceal a relatively hollow core. It's an oddly intriguing 75-minute play whose sum is less compelling than its parts.

'Monster'

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m.; through March 29

Tickets: $14; $8 for students

Call: 410-752-8558

Pub Date: 3/21/98

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