'Twas the Night Before...MONSTERS!
nytheatre.com review by Dan Kitrosser
December 13, 2009
It's the holiday season, and you know what that means. Santa? Presents? Good tidings and cheer? Wrong, wrong, wrong. In a malicious attempt to thwart the most wonderful time of the year, Zorlan Morlan has invaded Clement Clarke Moore's "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and thrown in some greedy, mouse-eating, holiday-hating monsters! But don't worry, our heroine Benji Bleaglehorn is here to save the day in 'Twas the Night Before...Monsters!, the hilarious, action-packed first episode of Monster Literature by Daniel John Kelley at the Brooklyn Lyceum. I'll let you know right now, if you are a parent, if you are a child, if you are a person like me who enjoys actors having a whole lot of fun, you'll brave the cold weather that still penetrates inside the walls of the Lyceum (bring a coat, hat and scarf!) and make it a point to see every episode of Monster Literature.
The series, which is brought to us all by Mainspring Collective and the Brooklyn Lyceum, features Benji Bleaglehorn, her dashingly dim-witted sidekick Bravo Kirkwood, and their nemesis, the evil sorcerer Zorlan Morlan, as Zorlan goes through literature, myths, and folktales and monster-izes them. The show begins with Zorlan Morlan (the terrific Owen Scott) as he plots his destruction of mankind's holiday spirit and then quickly segues into what will be the Monster Literature Theme Song, a techno-story-mime-dance number, that lets you know right away the writer, designers, directors, and actors are here to have fun. We are then flown to Earth in the year 2009 where Benji (the energetic Jenna Weinberg) discovers that no one seems to share her holiday spirit. As she re-reads "Twas the Night Before Christmas," she finds that it has been rewritten to include monsters behaving badly. Marching through the book with Bravo (the humorous Aaron Matteson), we get to meet those sordidly silly creatures, and in some hilarious twists and turns, Benji convinces the monsters to join in the holiday spirit, to the point where one monster is brought to tears saying, "Me so emotional!" This foils Zorlan Morlan's plans, but, as he makes clear by the end of the show, he's not done wreaking havoc on our stories, and Benji Bleaglehorn knows she is going to have to fight him again. The monsters, as played by Mark DeFrancis, Laine Bonstein, and Nia Fairweather, are great fun, and Jimmy Juste, as a most convincing and over-the-top Santa Claus, made me laugh from the moment he walked on stage.
Playwright Kelley has crafted a show that will educate as well as entertain, but more credit is due to him, co-directors Hilary Krishnan and Dara Malina, and Mindspring Collective for avoiding the usual pitfalls of children's theatre—the show is fun-filled but not saccharine, the story is easy to follow but not overly expository, the characters are broadly drawn but not two-dimensional. Nick Moore's fantastically futuristic sound design punctuates each scene with unexpected and much appreciated doses of high energy and the production design, by Shawn Rice and Diana Wright, which features a simple but purposed set and some brilliant muppet-caliber monsters, brings you entirely into the world of the show while sill letting your imagination fill in some blanks.
The one thing this show lacks is interaction with the audience. Though the show, running at about a half-hour, moves at a steady clip, kids still can get antsy if they are not completely taken into the world of the show. Characters checking in with the audience, even asking for their help, invites investment in the story, and especially for a young audience, gives some ownership of the event. Still, in Monster Literature, Mainspring Collective and he Brooklyn Lyceum have given us an exciting new gift that will keep giving for the rest of the year and I suggest you get in the holiday spirit and see the show.