Lizzie Vieh’s black comedy about a divorced couple permanently underwater in Phoenix Arizona, is clever and merciless, but it is also oddly compassionate. Exhibit A is the bit with the hermit crab. Danny (Richard Thieriot), living a sorry life in a motel-like apartment next to a strip joint in Phoenix, Arizona, buys a hermit crab as a pet for his daughter Samantha. She wanted a cat. “Cats hate me,” Danny says to us, describing his purchase as a pathetic kind of self-interest. But it was also motivated by a more altruistic kind of pathos: As we witnessed in his interaction with the (unseen) fish store manager, he did it to save the crustacean from a bigger one in the tank that was about to eat him.
Danny and his ex-wife Julia may be losers who constantly make laughably wrong choices, but they are trying to do right, to be better.
“Monsoon Season” is presented in effect as two solo shows back to back. In the first part, Danny is always smiling as he narrates a life that would make most people frown. He is afflicted with narcolepsy. He works at a shady technical support company, and moonlights as an Uber driver to pay child support. He is bad at both jobs; he turns his car radio on to regale his passengers with news reports about the Juarez cartel’s practice of cutting the heads off its rivals. Danny visits the strip club next door, trying to flirt with the strippers, who can’t even hear him. But he also visits his invalid mother, who confuses him with his more successful brother. “Here’s a way to keep us straight,” he tells her. “Stephen’s the one who hasn’t visited in four years, and I’m the one who comes every week.”
It’s clear that he misses his wife. When he finds out she’s living with someone named Shane, Danny first gets drunk, then makes anonymous threatening phone calls, and surreptitiously vandalize her backyard; his actions result in Julia taking out an order of protection against him. Part 1 ends with Danny talking vaguely and ominously about a decapitated head.
In Part 2, Julia (Therese Plaehn) lives through roughly the same timeline, from her perspective. She only smiles when she has to, when she’s working as a makeup artists, or presenting cosmetic tips for her YouTube channel. She’s hooked on Adderall and falls in with Shane when she meets him at the local bar. He moves into her home, and turns out to be an abusive drug dealer. She feels trapped, starts to hallucinate, gets paranoid.
The two actors portraying Danny and Julia finally meet at the end, in what could count as a happy ending, although not one any marriage counselor could recommend.
The All For One Theater production of “Monsoon Season” plays up the trailer trash background of the characters, with a garish set centered on a neon cactus and Vegas-like pounding music and flashing lights in-between scenes. There is also an otherworldly, sinister, ultimately gruesome aspect to the show; birds are a major motif, for some reason, always presented like Hitchcock rather than Audubon Society. None of this may sound like a comedy, but there is humor throughout – in Julia’s YouTube presentations for one, and in almost anything having to do with that crab. At one point, Danny notices that his daughter Sammy has drawn something in pink chalk in the driveway. “It’s a kitty cat!” he observes. “And it’s eating a…hermit crab.”
AFO at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Written by Lizzie Vieh
Directed by Kristin McCarthy Parker
Scenic design by You-Shin Chen, costumes by Haydee Zelideth, lighting by Sarah Johnston, sound by Emma Wilk
Cast: Richard Thieriot and Therese Plaehn
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $26 – $101
Monsoon Season is on stage through November 23, 2019