Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Charming Monsters (Fringe)

Dark Manic Whimsy
by Jessica Yen

Brought to us by Writer Director Aaron Rothermund, Charming Monsters is a sexy dark comedy full of little surprises. Blessed with a strong ensemble and superb design, Monsters is an enjoyable ride through a small but deadly town. This piece can feel like melodrama, but the heightened text is expertly delivered with style and fluid physicality. There is also plenty of humour in the mix, keeping the piece from turning into a daytime soap opera.

Roselie Williamson is lovely as the anxious "ugly" sister Cassandra Moore, earning both the audience's sympathy and laughs. She is particularly endearing when she falls under Henry's spell, playing lovestruck with youthful naivety. Jamie Sampson plays her sister, Catherine Moore "the beautiful sister" - a sensuous girl who encounters a satyr-like creature who later fills her with lethal power. We don't learn much about Catherine, other than that her beauty captures the heart of the womanizing Henry. However, Catherine's scenes with the bearded beast are the weakest in the show, feeling disconnected from the rest of the story. While Kevin Rees' physicality and commanding voice are excellent, the scenes stand apart from what is happening in the rest of the play. Henry, the male character at the centre of the conflict is played by Kyle Mac. Mac is sturdy as the selfish Henry, but lacks the detail found in the performances of his female counterparts. Lea Russell ignites each scene as the dominatrix-like Claudia Worthington. This tigress knows how to manipulate the characters around her and does it with relish. She dials up the humour when necessary without going overboard. Kathleen Goodleaf is a treat to watch as the butler Jefferies. Dressed as a man, Goodleaf navigates the treacherous waters commanded by Claudia and makes his (her?) voice heard even from under her high heel. Her comic timing is spot on, making the most of each of her moments. Lastly, Eve Wylden was engaging from the moment she stepped onto the stage. Without saying a word, the audience was already chuckling at her portrayal of the pathetic Lilith Moore who waits (in vain) for her husband Henry to come home to her. I don't know why I don't see Eve on more mainstages. 

Special mention goes to Samantha Aylsworth, whose simple and suggestive costume design  brought aesthetic unity to the piece. Overall, this is a show I would recommend to anyone looking for a departure from naturalism and something darker than any title containing the words "A Musical!". This play bubbles with manic sexual energy, "there's something wild about them" - go see for yourself!

Charming Monsters is at the Toronto Fringe

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