Family drama unfolds with Small Jokes About Monsters | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Family drama unfolds with Small Jokes About Monsters

So Godzilla, Mothra, and Gamera go to a funeral. . .

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Ryan, the bright, witty, psychologically damaged protagonist of Steven Strafford's dark domestic comedy (played with uncommon power and pathos by Esteban Andres Cruz) begins the play by dividing all comedians into three types: the Godzillas, who come on strong, firing joke after joke; the more subtle Mothras, who hold back but then destroy the audience with a few well-aimed quips; and the Gameras, clumsier than the other two, but equally devastating.

Ryan is not just talking about comics, but about himself and his brothers—and part of the beauty of Strafford's sly, well-crafted play lies in how this metaphor plays out over the course of its 90 minutes. Ryan, the demanding, self-centered extrovert, is indeed a Godzilla, and his brothers John and Derek are, respectively, a Mothra and a Gamera.

Thrown together by their estranged father's funeral, these three difficult "monsters," each unhappy in his own way, joke and bicker and bitch until, following the well-worn formula of family dramas, long-repressed secrets are revealed and the brothers (and the audience) must come to grips with a lot of new, uncomfortable truths.

Strafford adheres pretty closely to the dramatic structure of this kind of play—the ending is pure Chekhov—but his gift for strong dialogue and original characters keeps things from getting too predictable. It helps that this 16th Street Theater production under the direction of Kristina Valada-Viars is well paced and filled with strong actors who know how to make their characters compelling, which keeps the story fascinating and fresh.   v

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