Theater Review: 'The Monster Builder'

By: 
Ben Miles

A comedy, wrapped in a mystery and conveyed through the metaphor of architecture: this is the would-be piece of brain candy that dramatist Amy Freed attempts to feed us with in her latest play, “The Monster Builder,” in production on the Segerstrom Stage of Costa Mesa’s South Coast Repertory Theatre through June 4.

But frankly, “Builder” is a hodgepodge of murky philosophical tenets – a Nietzsche reference here, an allusion to nihilism there – with touches of magical realism and ample dollops of absurdity thrown in to this unsavory theatrical confection. The characters, six of them, aren’t likable, charming or admirable. In fact, spending two hours with them in this two-act (with one intermission) show is more like an eternity. 

The central character, Gregor (played with joyful malevolence by Danny Scheie) is a famous and famously pompous architect, with a truly unbelievable resume that goes way back.

Given the opportunity to meet and maybe collaborate with Gregor, up and coming building designers Rita (a serviceable Susannah Schulman Rogers) and Dieter (a nondescript characterization by Aubrey Deeker), are at first star struck by the presence of the great Gregor.

Meanwhile, issues of class, condescension and crassness are broached by two other cartoonish characters offered up by Playwright Freed: Pamela (a dogged portrayal by Colette Kilroy) and her ex-truck driver lover boy, Andy (a homey Gareth Williams). And, of course, Gregor has his muse, Tamsin (an acrobatic Annie Abrams), who also happens to be his nemesis.

Under Art Manke’s challenged direction, “Master Builder” is brilliant it terms of production values. Thomas Buderwitz’s complexly engineered scenic design is arguably the shining star in this dark, largely humorless comedy. It’s an effortlessly moveable set, which provides for three distinct playing environs. And costuming by Angela Balogh Calin, Kent Dorsey’s lighting and Rodolfo Ortega’s original music and soundscape all provide visual and acoustic relief from a play that is far under par for dramatic purposes.

Information for Monster Builder

Tickets: May be purchased online at www.scr.org, by phone at (714) 708-5555 or by visiting the Box Office at 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. Performances run May 5 to June. 4. Ticket prices start at $22. Low-priced previews run May 5 to May 11. SCR’s performances run Tuesdays-Sundays; there are no performances on Mondays.

  • Performance Dates, Times
  • Performances run May 13-June 4:
  • Evening Performances: May 27 and June 1-3.
  • Matinees: Saturdays-Sundays, at 2:30 p.m., May 27-28; and June 3-4.
  • ASL-interpreted: Saturday, June 3, at 2:30 p.m. 

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