Stagecrafters turned the lights back on as they opened their Fall season with "Rogues' Gallery" by John Patrick Shanley. Director Mariangela Saavedra introduces a lot of first-timers who benefit from Shanley's shorter, more punchy stories and bring them to life.
Stagecrafters turned the lights back on as they opened their Fall season with "Rogues' Gallery" by John Patrick Shanley, an engaging 90-minute show where 10 characters, totally unknown to each other, deliver desperate monologues.
Playwright Shanley is best known for his Tony award play "Doubt: a Parable" (2005), which was made into an outstanding movie starring Meryl Streep. He wrote "Rogues' Gallery" to create a venue for theater people during the pandemic. Shanley saves his longest monologue for last, "The Choreographer's Hand", where the narrator says, "The best way to get away with murder is don't talk about it, and I never have." — and then he does.
This character is painfully adrift in his interior world; kudos to Jim Broyles for delivering a Rilke-like, 20-minute rumination. Broyles is a familiar player at Stagecrafters, but director Mariangela Saavedra introduces a lot of first-timers who benefit from Shanley's shorter, more punchy stories and bring them to life.
Only "Lockdown" is specific to the pandemic. Shelli Pentimall Bookler huddles under a table where she talks over the cell phone to her married lover, confiding that she only stays with her hated boyfriend because she loves his puppy.
In "The Acupuncturist," Breffny Rouse is the victim of a practitioner-turned shaman who specializes in finding pain. In "The Clerical Line," cock-of-the-walk Larry Arrigale sports custom-made clerical garb to honor his imagined, elevated status.
In "Artificial Leg," Harrison Rothbaum finds the article in his new townhouse. What to do with it? In "I was Right About Everything," Ben Lyle Lotka is a strutting, hip-hop Hispanic who says "I'm the fascinating one … the one a movie star would want to play" to a love interest he cannot impress.
Other monologues are suspenseful. In "Unknown Caller," Blake Edward Alvey is a rejected suitor. Then a mysterious woman awakens him from a drunken stupor to give him a second chance. In "Drive," Gina Williams is a struggling cabaret singer who is helped out in an unexpected way.
In "Gaucho," Steve Connor is a betrayed husband. The character slings bolas (a type of throwing weapon made of weights on the ends of interconnected cords, used to capture animals by entangling their legs) to exact revenge, but the outcome mystifies both himself and his wife. In "Ditto," Neena Boyle is one of several star-crossed and double-crossed lovers.
The set design of Tony Kenney and Gilbert Todd is super-simple, a plain wooden table and chair. To introduce the vignettes, rear wall videos flash photos of the actors that resemble mugshots. The actors move you: some, like Lotka and Arrigale, are richly comic; Neena Boyle is tragicomic; Steve Connor is tragic.
But all these monologues hold your attention — wacky, suspenseful and above all, deeply ironic. And the people here are so utterly alone it leads you to ponder: Did the pandemic create some new isolation or merely lay bare our normal reality.
Note: Stagecrafters requires attendees to present proof of vaccination and to wear masks covering nose and mouth during the performance.
Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. "Rogues' Gallery" will run through Oct 10. Reservations available at 215-247-9913.