Review: Stare ‘Monster’ in the eye at Factory Theatre

Daniel MacIvor classics still resonate

What: Monster
Where: Factory Theatre, Studio Theatre, 125 Bathurst St.
When: Now, until Sun., Dec. 17
Highlight: Use of shadows in lighting with a visual reminiscent of 1979’s Alien.
Rating: NNN (out of 5)
Why you should go: Deadpan humour, a gory crime and a good old-fashioned “rug out from under you” reveal.

YOU WONDER, “Has it started yet?” as you wait in the pitch-black Factory Studio Theatre. A long luxurious silence ensues; you settle into the darkness. More darkness. And, suddenly, a voice from the stage yells at a coughing woman in the audience to shut up because the movie is about to start. Lights up on Karl Ang in Daniel MacIvor’s Monster.

MacIvor is a well-known master of tension, and he showcases just that in this powerhouse revival of a Governor General Award Finalist show. At 75 minutes, Monster, a one-man show, transports you through a series of disturbing vignettes, including a young bickering couple, a moviemaker battling alcoholism and a boy obsessed with the vicious crime committed by his odd neighbours. These stories are narrated by Adam, who speaks directly to the audience: he seems welcoming, a little calculated perhaps, but is there something else bubbling beneath the surface?

Karl Ang gives one monster of a performance (pun intended). We see the lives of 16 characters, all played by Ang as he stays glued to one place on the stage. He transforms effortlessly between age and creed with something as simple as the turn of a head. Simply put, he’s entrancing. This is no doubt also thanks to the stellar direction by Soheil Parsa, who uses distinct movement and stillness to accentuate different states of being.

There is a divulsion from the convention of Ang being planted to the stage in a moment when he retreats away from the audience’s view to go grab a champagne glass. Though I understand the intention to highlight this moment of the show, the execution of it comes across more like an actor forgetting his prop than an impactful directorial choice — something to revisit.

Lighting by Trevor Schwellnus experiments with neon colours, darkness and shadows. The lights are set up directly on the stage and pointed at the actor; there is also a series of lights mounted onto the back wall, almost reminiscent of glowing candles. The dark/light motif is certainly not lost on the audience. Shadows are used expertly: at times, Ang’s hand is held up and reflected on his torso, creating a visual similar to the creature popping out of Kane’s chest in 1979’s Alien. At other times, Ang’s profile is simply shadowed on the walls of Factory’s theatre, reflecting the fractured inner workings of certain characters.

Not only did Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound help transport the audience from place to place with ambient noises and sharp, echoey clicks as Ang switched from character to character, but live sound was also used for Ang’s voice itself. When speaking as certain characters, his mic was simply on; as other characters, it was off; and still for other characters, voice-altering effects were used to help complete his transformation. In all cases, cues were sharp and the audience never fully settled into one setting before being yanked into the next.

First performed in ’98 at the duMaurier World Stage in Toronto, this script still feels fresh 20 years later. As characters speak directly to the audience, the audience can’t help but feel implicit in the action unfolding on stage, staring it right in the eye. Monster is, unsurprisingly but effectively, about the monstrosity within humanity as a whole, and I left the theatre feeling more than unsettled with the world around me.

If you like a bit of gore, deadpan humour and a good old-fashioned “rug out from under you” reveal, don’t miss out on Monster.