Monster by Joe Sellman-Leava
The Cage at the Vaults (short walk from Waterloo Station) to the 28th
Runs 1 hour without an interval
Veronica Stein, January 25th, 2018.
Holding up a mirror to masculinity and violence
Mike Tyson and Patrick Stewart aren’t necessarily two peas in the same pod. It’s hard to put their two faces together, but Joe Sellman-Leava does just that (mostly with their voices) in Monster, playing at the Vaults through the 28th.
This one-man play explores violence and masculinity and whether the two are mutually exclusive, and though it seems that the answer might clearly be no, the connections aren’t necessarily so clear. The man we see on stage seems highly genial and intent on being as warm as possible, rehearsing for a piece exploring abuse in Shakespeare has led him to consider Tyson, Stewart, and the Bard in the context of his own life and relationship. As the director asks him to delve further and further into himself to make his performance as authentic as possible, he is forced to contend with what makes a monster and why he’s so scared to inhabit one.
Sellman-Leava is charismatic as his semi-autobiographical persona and his turns as his director, his girlfriend, Tyson, and Stewart, often alternating rapidly and with no pause. He is a skilled storyteller who, despite some struggles early in the piece to keep momentum, builds to the conclusion in mesmerizing fashion. His accents are stellar and so is his classical acting within the frame device of the play, and although his portrayal of himself is perhaps the most colourless, Sellman-Leava’s writing allows all characters to marry well and connect in unexpected ways.
Monster quite admirably takes an extremely prevalent issue and explores it in a way that only theatre can, away from viral journalism and back to individuals and their relationships. Though Sellman-Leava is prepared to criticize both feminism and its detractors alike, he is also able to prove both correct in certain aspects without sermonizing. It is an exciting piece that certainly accomplishes its mission and pushes us to reconsider how we contextualize ourselves in social movements and how we define ourselves regardless. What makes a person? What they do or what they’re capable of? Monster gives us an answer, but reminds us to never stop questioning.
Performed by: Joe Sellman-Leava
Director: Yaz Al-Shaater
Dramaturg: Anna Beecher
Lighting Design: Sam Hollis-Pack
Design Consultant: Johanna Meyer