Stray Dog’s World Premiere of “Monsters” Is Perfect Summer Fun

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Kevin O’Brien as Jeremy and Jeremy Goldmeier as Davis in Stephen Peirick’s “Monsters” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Local actor and playwright, Stephen Peirick, gets a full fledged production of one of his plays that was in workshop with Stray Dog Theatre last year. The play, “Monsters,” is a black comedy that hits all the right notes in this initial presentation. Outrageous premise that brings out the wicked need for survival and a lot of surprise twists at the end make this 90-minute one act a breath of fresh air to lead us into a busy summer theatre schedule.

Mr. Peirick, who has been reworking the script since the initial reading, still needs a little polish on the dialogue but the jokes hit strong and the loony family situation is just as funny as it is macabre. Davis and his brother, Jeremy, have accepted a pocket full of money to “take out” a problem for the local mob (yes, it is set in St. Louis). They have stalked and captured Carl and have him tied up and gagged in a rolling office chair in Davis’s basement. Jeremy is standing guard waiting for Davis when Davis’s wife comes on the scene- she was supposed to be gone for the whole day. Although he has “hidden” Carl in one of the back rooms of the basement, it doesn’t take long for Andi to figure out something is wrong.

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Sarajane Alverson, Jeremy Goldmeier and Kevin O’Brien console each other the the Stray Dog Theatre production of “Monsters.” Photo: John Lamb

There’s a hilarious scene when Jeremy reveals the gun to Andi and he shows he’s not the sharpest tack in the box. Then Andi’s sister, Piper comes on the scene to do her weekly three loads of wash and so another member of the family becomes embroiled in the unlikely scheme. By the time Davis gets home, the action starts fast and furious as this inept quartet try to rationalize their now implicit plot to murder a perfect stranger. Andi has always been wary of the basement anyway as she feels ghosts and monsters lurk in every corner. This whole situation doesn’t ease her fears. A few nice plot twists (only one of which I figured out) lead us to a surprising finale that only tends to emphasize the need to be afraid of monsters wherever they lurk.

The wonderful cast leads us on this merry, if gruesome, romp led by Sarajane Alverson as Andi. Her attitudes change drastically as the seriousness of what her husband and his brother have gotten them into sink in. Jeremy Goldmeier is delightful as Davis. He really gets into the part and is perfectly believable as the guy who just seems to realize what a perfectly fine mess he has created for his family.

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Sarajane Alverson as Andi, scolds her husband, played by Jeremy Goldmeier while Kevin O’Brien looks on in Stephen Peirick’s “Monsters” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Kevin O’Brien is superb as the dim-witted Jeremy who believes he is in control while everything around him is falling apart. A stellar performance by Eileen Engel  brings a part goth, part bewildered child to Piper who can’t seem to make up her mind if she’s in or out in this whole kidnap/murder thing. Finally, a remarkable performance by Michael A. Wells as (not to be confused with “The Drowsy Chaperone”) the man in the chair. He expresses emotions quite nicely as he rolls around, cringes and pleads while being securely tied to the chair and uttering only grunts and groans with the gag in his mouth.

Artistic Director of Stray Dog Theatre, Gary F. Bell, has directed with a keen eye for both the horror and hilarity of the “Monsters” script. As he says in his pre-curtain speech, it’s difficult to direct a world premiere because you just don’t really know until opening night if you’ve hit all the right marks. Well, he has and Mr. Peirick can be pleased that Mr. Bell is helming this production.

Justin Been has given us a modest but well cluttered basement set design with patchy dry wall and the various basement paraphernalia like paint cans, a slightly used love seat and even a few odds and ends like a fan (every basement needs one). Tyler Duenow’s lights enhance the proceedings and Gary F. Bell has brought smart choices to the costume design.

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More huddling as Eileen Engel grasps onto Jeremy Goldmeier and Sarajane Alverson in the Stray Dog Theatre production of Stephen Peirick’s “Monsters.” Photo: John Lamb

It’s really exciting to attend a world premiere and this one is a winner in the making. As I said, some dialogue needs to be smoothed out to keep it from getting too much like a sit-com but the jokes tend to feed off each other and cascade in fine fashion. Definitely off to a good start and well worth your theatre going dollars to see this fine cast and a dandy of a play that will keep you guessing. See Stephen Peirick’s “Monsters” at Stray Dog Theatre through June 24th. Give them a call at 314-865-1995 for tickets or more information.

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