By David Walters
Monstress is a telling of tall tales, some scary, some heartbreaking, some violent, some humorous, laced together with the poetry of music and the music of poetry. The stories are linked with compelling acting, singing, and enviable instrumental talent playing bass, mandolin, guitars, violin, saxophone, banjo, clarinet, washboard, accordion, and dulcimer, which pull the myths of female monsters out of the usual patriarchal telling and lifts the shroud to peek into the soul of each monstress. There’s some beautiful music here.
We’re not talking monster, we’re talking monstress, M-O-N-S-T-R-E-S-S. That word has a little more weight and depth, and its gender-specificness gives it a slant not often expressed when these stories are usually told. Who are all these monstersesses? Greek mythology’s driving forces, instigators, and mothers of many.
Billed as a bluegrass musical, Monstress is the Deep South meets Greek mythology and the setup is the coming together of friends and family to tell stories and share songs passed down through time. It’s a dynamite cast that harmonizes and seamlessly melds themselves together, throwing their all into their portrayals bringing joy and fun to the evening.
“The past can’t be the past if it hurts all the time,” is the theme of the piece as it highlights the backstories and inner turmoil of each monstress. Besides the pain and suffering they dish out, there is the pain and suffering that never eases that made them who they are.
Before you go, re-brief yourself on Nyx, Echidna, The Sirens, Medusa, Sphinx, and The Graeae. It will enrich your experience and add clarity to the subtlety of the settings of each scene and the twists of the storytelling.
The actors have a lot of scene changes to contend with, at times taking them and the audience away from the storytelling that is front and center of this piece.
The idea is a good one, it’s there. There is this rich mythical material told from the monstresse’s points of view, there are beautiful songs, a compellingly delightful cast that brings the audience in almost immediately, fun staging, and great use of the theatrical space. It’s a rich evening on many levels. What is missing is a consistent through-line we can hang on to that takes us from beginning to end. It’s there, but not fully realized, but don’t let that keep you away. Well worth experiencing.
Monstress book and lyrics by Emily Kitchens, with original music by Ben Quinn and Titus Tompkins, and directed by Hondo Weiss-Richmond
The cast includes Rheanna Atendido, Olivia Billings, Jianzi Colón-Soto, Philip Estrera, Natalie Hegg, Jordan Kaplan, Allison Kelly, Adam Boggs McDonald, and Titus Tompkins.
Now through Saturday 5 November 2022 at the New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher Street between Greenwich Street and Washington Street). Tickets are $20. To purchase and for more information, visit HungerAndThirstTheatre.com.
As always, this is just one man’s opinion in a world filled with them.