Nashville Rep's MONSTERS is dark, haunting, brilliant

Dark, haunting, and brilliant are an apt description of author Nate Eppler's Good Monsters, now showing at Nashville Repertory Theater in TPAC's Johnson Hall. Set in what was described to be Clarksville, Tennessee, Good Monsters tells the story of Frank (Nathaniel McIntyre), a former soldier turned cop who is on administrative leave without pay for the murder of an unarmed teenager.

The story unfolds in Frank’s backyard and introduces us to Darlene (Carey Van Driest), Frank’s live in fiancé who is paying the bills using her God given talents, yes, both of them. This has put the two of them in a rough patch, but they’re trying their best to get through it together. Frank’s friend, Dumptruck (R. Alex Murray), a Larry the Cable Guy wannabe who works on the police force with Frank, trying to be as supportive as he can in the midst of a bad situation. Josie (Megan Murphy Chambers) plays a big city crisis handler, much like Olivia Pope of Scandal notoriety, who Darlene has hired to represent her. Darlene prays that Frank will see the light and hire her as well.

They are all trying to do the best they can, but Frank is having a really hard time moving on because he is haunted by the ghost of the girl he killed, Zero (Alexandra Huff). Zero is a sarcastic, typical teenager who has committed the crime of shoplifting from a Wal-Mart. She has come back from the grave to plague Frank over his mistake, trying to talk him into suicide. In ghostly fashion, the only person who can see her is Frank, and the rest of the cast is dumbfounded at the seemingly insane things Frank is doing and the way he is acting. He is what one would call the strong silent type. He’s very calculating in everything he does, seeming like a guy who tries think a step ahead, but this entire experience is making him question whether or not he was right, if he is a murderer, and what he should have done differently. His internal monologue is written all over his face. He’s horrified, but trying so hard to be strong through the ordeal. When Zero shows up, every time his face changes to pure dismay and self-hatred. Those emotions all come together when Zero’s father (Garris Wimmer) appears.

This is a play that asks the audience “Was he justified?” It’s a very open-ended answer, leaving it up to each member of the audience to draw their own conclusion. It is incredibly dark. Comic relief is offered at times, but it didn’t take away the heavy nature of the play. With the storyline being a common theme in America right now, it really sends the audience into internal thought. You find yourself asking who the real monster is. Is it Frank, is it Zero? Or is there a bigger cause at the root of it all?

The show is chock full of talent. In a show like this, the cast has to be ready to take the audience on an emotional roller coaster, which this troupe does with ease. Each cast member knew exactly how to deliver each line in manner that showed their chops. The way they worked off one another gave the notion that they had really spent the time they should to connect with one another off stage. They knew every move the other was going to make, so much so that it seemed like it had almost been choreographed. This truly seemed to be a team effort with everyone working so well together to keep the audience on the edge of their seat.

Megan Murphy Chambers, the actress who played Josie the crisis handler, truly shined. She played the part with the tenacity that it required. The better-than-thou attitude her character had was performed masterfully. Megan has been in several other productions, most notably in my mind was her time as the beggar woman in Sweeney Todd an October or two ago. She is a stellar artist who is a gem in the crown of the Nashville Theatre Community. Her being in the show is enough to make it worth your while, but not the only reason.

Alexandra Huff who played Zero is someone who is obviously a rising star. This is her first show with NashRep and it would be a safe bet that it won’t be her last, if they can find a way to keep her in house. Her sweet sarcasm mixed with the seditious nature of the character was so naturally flowing through her, she made playing the role of this jaded teenager seem like she’d been doing it her whole life. Her connection to this character, one that is very dark, was played in such a light-hearted manner, it made the question of ‘Was Frank right’ so much harder to answer.

This show is very deep and emotional. Whatever you do, leave the kids at home. You do not want to explain any of this to them. It’s a very timely piece, so keep that in mind that it is, in true Law & Order fashion, ripped from the headlines.

Nate Eppler is known around town for his dark comedies, but this takes his dark to a new depth. The dark humor reminded me greatly of the Tony nominated Hand of God. If you like things like Sweeney Todd, you will find an appreciation for this play. The right versus wrong, good versus bad questions it holds will leave you perplexed for days.


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Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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