One of the wonderful things about living in New York City and its boroughs is that everywhere you look (and even where you don’t) there is live theater happening. If you wandered by 224 Waverly Place you might not even know that a play was taking place upstairs, unless you caught the small bronze letters “Theater” above the red door, perhaps while you were enjoying a falafel from the adjacent Mediterranean cafe.
Currently playing at 224 Waverly, aka Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, is Monsoon Season, a must-see world-premiere piece by Lizzie Vieh which takes place in the rainy, flooding season of the otherwise hot and arid desert of Phoenix, Arizona.
As the lively, funk rock fades out and the boisterous audience members take their seats, a lone neon cactus illuminates the stage before the lights come up on Danny (Richard Thieriot). His big, dazzling smiles quickly belie his being a recently divorced, nose-bleeding, easy-to-anger, aggressive, desperate insomniac. During his lengthy monologues we hear his side of conversations with his ex-wife, boss, co-worker, Uber rider, daughter, sex club bouncer, etc., and a picture begins to form of what a pathetic, downward-spiraling deadbeat Danny is. Our hearts go out to the poor, mistreated ex-wife Julia (Therese Plaehn) whom we’ve never met, and we pity their sad daughter Sammy.
Eventually there’s a clever scene change (by designer You-Shin Chen) where Danny’s chaotic apartment is transformed into his ex-wife Julia’s apartment; she enters, and there’s a brief standoff between them before Danny departs.
Lights up on Julia, and now it’s our turn to hear her side of the story. As her monologues begin, it is only a matter of moments before our preconceived image of Julia is quickly dispelled by the petty, Adderall-popping, chaos-thriving, manipulator she truly is, and when we learn she’s let her dealer-lover move in with her and is having Sammy call him “daddy” we begin to wonder who’s the real loser in this maelstrom of a marriage.
There’s only one thing more to tell you before you rush out to see this show, and that is that body parts apparently do not decay well in the dry heat of Phoenix, so other measures must be taken to hide the bodies.
Both Thieriot as Danny and Plaehn as Julia are pure perfection in their roles. They evoke gut-busting laughs throughout, but not without the briefest glimpses of true and honest desperation, however fleeting, before their devious and scheming existences shine through once again.
Vieh’s script is extremely clever in its telling two sides of a story completely by separate monologues. The dialogue is real and yet extremely funny, never revealing too much, allowing the audience to piece together what’s going on as the actors deliver their lines with impeccable timing and tumult.
The direction by Kristin McCarthy Parker is spot on, ensuring the intent and direction of the actors’ monologues are crystal clear and in alignment with the plot’s eventual masterly unveiling (twist included).
Haydee Zelideth’s costume design is to be commended for perfectly depicting the smarmy side of the characters. The sound design by Emma Wilk delightfully presents a wide range of retro-rock during all transitions. Sarah Johnston’s lighting design contributes seamlessly and creatively with the time, tone and place of the story, with special mention of just the right kind of blue lighting to suggest a pet shop scene with aquariums and pet crates.
Don’t miss this enjoyable evening of rubbernecking over the freeway accident that is Danny and Julia’s relationship.
Monsoon Season (extended through November 23, 2019)
All For One Theater
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, in Manhattan
For tickets visit http://www.afo.nyc/
Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission