by Nat Cassidy · August 15, 2014
Cincinnati's Clifton Performance Theatre presents an uneven but intriguing adaptation(? reimagining? abstraction?) of W.W. Jacobs' 1902 horror story, "The Monkey's Paw."
It's a plot that should be familiar to most—the story of a married couple who finds that the wishes made on a mystical monkey's paw all come true in disastrously literal ways has been repurposed multiple times over, from The Simpsons to Pet Sematary—and Kevin Crowley's script cleverly subverts the supernatural horror of the source material by turning it into a tale of two people consumed by the anxieties of early parenthood. The husband, Mike, a pathological germaphobe, loses himself to jealousy over his infant son's pampered existence, and longs to return to a life uncomplicated by the demands of his offspring. The wife, Tish, fearing she is losing her connection to the outside world, blossoms into a full-blown agoraphobic and soon the outside world begins to insert itself into her living room. It's smart stuff on Crowley's part, done entirely without the paranormal, and which still turns creepy with the introduction of a somewhat feral gardener whose name is the very inversion of their son's.
Unfortunately, where the production comes up short is in the direction (also handled by Crowley). On the technical side, the play has multiple scene shifts and fade-outs, none of which is aided by any sort of transitional music or sound cues, and so the play, which runs only a brisk 55 minutes, begins to feel plodding and loses all sense of momentum. On the emotional side, the characters already walk a fine line between relatably and alienatingly absurd, and very little effort seems to have been made to ensure they end up as the former. The character of Mike, in particular, has more than enough ingredients on the page to be immensely unlikeable, but no moments are taken to counteract the stridency and so, despite the cleverness and potential of the script, I found the end product to be somewhat of a shrill, tiring, almost monotonous exercise.
Perhaps it was Crowley's wish to portray raising a young child as such (and I know plenty of people who'd agree that that's an accurate representation), but as the source material warns: be careful what you wish for.