PROVO — It was a beautiful day in May when I walked toward the Nelke Theatre at BYU, but one thing seemed out of place. I was on my way to see a new play entitled Mysteries of Monster Grove. Halloween was far out of the mind of many of the people around me, and I wondered what was in store for me as I went to see this play. I was soon greeted with a performance filled with wonderfully quirky characters that made me forget for the little time that I was there that the world outside this theatre was bright and sunny.
In the little town of Monster Grove, Halloween is every day of the year, and the fact that humans happen to reside there is the exception, not the rule. Amelia and her family have just moved in to help the monsters. Her father is an accountant and since the monsters are bad at math and bad with money, they desperately need his help. Everything is not as is seems, however, and there are many mysteries afoot for the young Amelia to solve, especially when her father goes missing.
The script for this play was based on stories by children’s author Rick Walton. The process was unique in the fact that the play was written as the actors improvised Rick’s various stories with the help of director Eric Samuelsen. After each session they would talk about what was created and a script was created from there. The result was a town full of characters who were strange and bizarre, but delightfully so. Each actor had been a part of the creation process and no matter how strange these cookie-loving monster legends were, the actors seemed very comfortable in their own skin. Or bones. Or slime.
There were, however, elements in the script that I had a few problems with. The beginning of the play started with a song that introduced the characters. While I understand it was trying to be appealing to children, I felt the song missed the mark. It didn’t fit in with great dialogue, it wasn’t in tune, and the actors weren’t together half of the time. The only song I felt worked was the mother’s Brownie Ballad, which had a slightly crazy quality that worked quite well. There was also a moment where the monsters and Amelia tell the audience quite plainly that it is okay to enter a neighbors house without asking as long as you don’t steal anything. That’s a problem.
Despite the problems with the songs—and luckily there were only a few—I felt that the acting was great. Adele Gabriel played a great Amelia and was good at involving the children in the audience. Hailey Isaacson played a great mother and seemed like she had just stepped out of a Neil Gaiman novel. She was so peppy, bright, and oblivious that she was almost as spooky as the monsters. As far as the monsters are concerned, my favorites were the Ogre (Andrea Gunroe), Skeleton (Benjamin Jensen), and Swamp Thing (James Moore). The Ogre was delightfully charming in her own ogreish way, Skeleton had great physicality and had a great energy, and Swamp Thing was very well acted even though the actor was faced with the task of performing in a giant slug like costume that slimed it’s way across the stage.
I really only had problems with a few things as far as acting is concerned. As I said earlier, the script is quite clever. It uses words well and doesn’t try to dumb it down for the children. I had a hard time hearing some of these great lines, though. I hope as the run continues the actors strive for better diction. They have created great characters and a great script and it’s a shame that I couldn’t hear everything they were saying. I also felt like some of the actors lacked the spot on energy that was present everywhere else on stage. This is particularly true for the Dad (Mark Tonkinson), who wasn’t on stage for very long, but when he was the performance fell a little flat.
Overall I felt the production was a success and the children seemed to enjoyed it. The set was beautiful, the costumes were fun, and the actors were committed. There was a high level of audience interaction and participation, and the monsters were the perfect blend of spooky and charming. So were the humans, in fact. By the end of the play, I realized that one of the biggest things I came away with was the feeling that we are as scary as the things that go bump in the night. Go see this show with your children. Its fun, quirky, and the perfect night out for your own little monsters at home.