Chicago Theater Review: THE MONUMENT (The Side Project Theatre)

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by Samantha Nelson on August 9, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


The Monument opens with a young man strapped into an electric chair, recounting the actions that led him to the moment of his execution. If playwright Colleen Wagner had ended her work with the switch being pulled, she would have produced a solid solo short play. Instead the show turns into a two-hour, intermissionless, theatrical torture porn which strives to be edgy but just feels interminable.

Samantha Nelson's Stage and Cinema review of THE MONUMENT in ChicagoStetko (Brian Bengtson), who has been convicted of war crimes after raping and murdering 23 women during an ethnic conflict in an unnamed country, is offered a reprieve in exchange for obedience by Mejra (Amy Harmon). While he initially thinks he’s gotten a good deal, he soon finds himself beaten and chained up like a dog outside of Mejra’s shack.

Samantha Nelson's Stage and Cinema review of THE MONUMENT in ChicagoEverything about the plot is implausible. Mejra has no family, friends or money, yet is able to pull the country’s most hated man out of prison to be her personal whipping boy. She repeatedly mentions that they must get their land to produce or they will starve, but nothing bad seems to happen when it seemingly doesn’t. The fight between Mejra and Stetko pits the beefy Bengtson against a frail woman who recoils in pain when she hits him, and yet somehow Mejra is the decisive victor. Evan Jackson’s direction makes that scene even worse, dragging it out for far too long. The initial attack may be startling, but the rest of Bengtson rolling around and grunting in pain is just awkward. Indeed, Jackson’s tendency for overlong scenes turns Bengtson’s pained noises into a score that plays out multiple times, causing the show to become even more wearisome.

Samantha Nelson's Stage and Cinema review of THE MONUMENT in ChicagoDespite his crimes, Stetko is meant to be a somewhat sympathetic character and Bengtson makes it easy to like him, especially in the show’s best scenes, which involve him nurturing a pet rabbit. Unfortunately there’s nothing to make Mejra likeable. Harmon plays her as a constantly grimacing and shrieking witch, and the script gives her no development. The only reason to root for her is because she’s a victim and Stetko is a criminal, and that’s simply not enough.

Samantha Nelson's Stage and Cinema review of THE MONUMENT in ChicagoThe best work in The Monument comes from set designer Dennis Mae, who makes excellent use of The Side Project Theatre’s tiny space. The stage is coated with mulch, which serves to pad the brawls while also becoming dirt where characters dig up stubborn rocks, budding plants and corpses. The space beneath the audience’s seats is also used to store hidden objects, as if the viewers are complicit in concealing them.

In his notes, Jackson writes “There’s no moral at the end of this story. No life lesson.” That’s certainly true, but the problem with The Monument isn’t that it offers no satisfying conclusion; it’s that it takes so long going nowhere that its end just brings relief.


photos by Lenny Wahlberg

The Monument
Idle Muse Theatre Company at The Side Project Theatre in Chicago
scheduled to end on Aug. 26, 2012
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