Invigoratingly Original “Monsters of the American Cinema”

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Monsters of the American Cinema is a taut, award-winning queer drama at Rogue Machine in the Matrix Theatre on Melrose Avenue. Produced by the superlative creative team at Rogue Machine who excel at tearing into fresh, bold, exciting new works, this play by California Black playwright Christian St. Croix has moments of startling magical realism, immersion into grief, hate, addiction, mental illness, and coming of age. Remy (Kevin Daniels) is mourning the loss of his addict husband and raising his troubled homophobic 16-year-old stepson Pup (Logan Leonardo Arditty) behind the drive-in movie theatre they inherited in San Diego where schlocky classic monster double features are the most popular entertainment.

Monsters of the American Cinema is invigoratingly original. This haunting two-person drama, directed eloquently by John Perrin Flynn, has striking imagery and quiet resonance. The full house opening night audience was enraptured.

Kevin Daniels, Logan Leonardo Arditty – Photo by:Jeff Lorch

St. Croix boldly steps away from the collective fantasy world many playwrights and screenwriters are stuck in. He leans into a refreshing realism in the way that the characters are isolated and struggle financially. There are other small moments that land. Remy tells us that he and his husband had “jobs, not dreams” and that they had no friends to invite to their cash-strapped wedding because neither of them had friends.

Monsters of the American Cinema employs a narrative structure with magical realism, straight-to-the-audience monologues, and traditional dramatic scenes. There is a clunkiness in some parts, a kind of narrative over-chewing, to this structure. Even so, Remy’s monologues are truly the best part of the show. Broadway veteran Kevin Daniels has tremendous range and power, and the monologues he delivers are wondrous. There is everything here from a hilarious opening monologue mocking the virtue showmanship of politicians to a brutally raw meditation on basking in a father’s pure love, then suffering his abuse. The gift of St. Croix’s textured, witty, poignant, vibrant writing makes the kind of monologues that actors live for. Daniels’ performance is brilliant and shattering.

Logan Leonardo Arditty, Kevin Daniels, – Photo by:Jeff Lorch

I feel a bit ambivalent about the casting and portrayal of Pup, the teen stepson. While Victoria Hoffman’s casting work is often immaculate, I keep feeling that actor Logan Leonardo Arditty, making his stage debut, feels a bit tonally off, a bit mismatched with powerhouse Kevin Daniels. What we need in this role is an unknown Ryan Gosling in “The Believer” or an Ezra Miller in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

There were a number of moments I wondered if Pup’s homophobia and gay bashing were going to be a prelude to him coming out, or at least confessing his sexual confusion or same-sex desires. We are repeatedly told that Pup is 100 percent heterosexual to the point where we start to question if this is true. The performance of Pup on stage feels queer at times. I am not sure if Pup is underdeveloped in the writing or if this is a casting or direction issue, but Pup’s monologues seem weaker than Remy’s, the exposition feeling creaky at times.

Logan Leonardo Arditty, Kevin Daniels, – Photo by:Jeff Lorch

Logan Leonardo Arditty’s Pup truly comes alive in scenes where he is possessed and struggling with some kind of hallucination or psychosis. There, Arditty is able to channel something fearless and raw, and it can be quite an engrossing performance. The humanizing of Pup is a fresh take on the obnoxious teen who is drawn to bullying and hate crimes.

We live in a rather wearisome, simplistic era when the solution to anything troubling is to ostracize or censor it. Yet, St. Croix does not take the easy route here. There is a note of hopefulness and resolution and healing that the play ends on. There is a tempered, mature humanity that elevates Monsters of the American Cinema.

Logan Leonardo Arditty, Kevin Daniels, – Photo by:Jeff Lorch

Although I frequently wince at the over-use of uninspired projections in theatre, the infusion of classic monster movie projections in Monsters of the American Cinema is stimulating, with superb work from Michelle Hanzelova-Bierbauer (Projection Design) and Keith Stevenson (Videographer). The imagery is funny, grotesque, and fantastical. Throughout the play, we come to appreciate many symbolic layers of meaning for the monsters.

“Monsters of the American Cinema” runs 8pm Fridays, Saturdays, Mondays; 3pm Sundays through May 19, 2024. No performance on April 22, 29 and May 13. Added performance at 8pm Wednesday, May 1. Rogue Machine (in the Matrix Theatre) is located at 7657 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046. Tickets are $45 for general seating (Seniors: $35; Students with ID; $25). Show4Less: Apr 26, May 3, 10 ($20+). Reservations or for more information: https://www.roguemachinetheatre.org/ and 855-585-5185.

Rogue Machine has upgraded their HVAC system at the Matrix Theatre to exceed compliance with current COVID protocols. They have installed HEPA air purifiers in all public spaces.

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