THE MONSTER TRILOGY by R. M. Vaughan, directed by Moynan King, with Kirsten Johnson, Caroline Gillis and Ann Holloway. Presented by Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Runs to October 9, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$29, Sunday pwyc. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
R. M. Vaughan's dark comedy the Monster Trilogy starts Buddies in Bad Times' 27th season with flair. It's not often that you see this level of dark comedy written for women.
Composed of three monologues, it features real-life homicidal Southern mama Susan Smith ( Kirsten Johnson ), redneck cop Margaret Chance ( Ann Holloway ) and a freaky Reverend ( Caroline Gillis ) who digs dead teens. The three pieces comment on female aggression, and they're never whiney, never self-pitying and never clichéd.
Before I get dribbly about how good this trilogy is, a sober thought: one monologue is weaker than the others.
As the Reverend, Gillis explains that she feels ecstatic in the presence of dead, brutalized teens. Her performance feels awkward, especially considering the company she's in. Holloway's monologue is terrifically funny, and Johnson's is based on a real person.
Gillis has to work twice as hard to get the audience interested in what the fictional Reverend has to say. And she comes on after Holloway's barn-burner. She works what she's got, though. All zealous, shining eyes and sinuous smoke from her cancer stick, Gillis looks good under Andrea Lundy's spectacular lighting design. All three actors are onstage for most of this piece. Those not speaking hold still until a resonant line causes a small sympathetic movement that the shifting lights illuminate, suggesting a sisterhood based on more than just crazy deeds.
Susan Smith comes alive in Johnson's sweet, low-key confessional about killing her babies instead of herself, "sparing them from suffering." Deftly handling a live-feed video camera, Johnson never looks directly at the audience - but her image, projected on a wall, never looks away. Watching Johnson and watching the image behind her on the wall makes a simple statement about Smith's split personality as the loving mother who was able to drown her two young sons with so little remorse.
Holloway gives us a brassy cop whose young son is probably a maniac and whose racist, wild sarcasm probably made him that way.
The trilogy undersells itself as just a play about urban paranoia and how women are just as psychotic as men. It's more about how people - male, female, queer, straight - create their own logic to stay sane, because there's very little else keeping any of us from going completely off the edge.