I had heard the buzz which emerged from “across the pond” about “A Monster Calls,” now playing at the Kennedy Center through June 5 and which marks the production’s U.S. premiere.
And I vaguely remember seeing the movie several years which served as an adaptation of the play – with both the play and the film based on the award-winning novel by Patrick Ness of the same name.
But what I witnessed during the more than two-hour production left me temporarily stunned in silence – unprepared for what can only be described as a “mind-blowing experience.”
The story counts as a simple, yet sadly frequent tale of a teenage boy who must find a way to deal with a traumatic, life-changing situation – the pending death of his mother from cancer. Told from a child’s perspective who must somehow come to terms with issues more often thrust upon adults – life, death and grief – we walk with Connor (Anthony Aje) as he realizes that the world is far more complex than the polar opposites of black and white, good and bad or happy and sad.
But what makes this play and its cast stand out is the profound level of creativity which the actors collectively employ as they tell a story that no two members of the audience will understand in the same way. We are forced to use our imagination because of a script that’s written to support a more organic means of mental processing.
In other words, we aren’t force-fed our meal – we must fix the plate, sample everything on the menu, chew meticulously and then evaluate how much, or little, we have enjoyed the repass. With few objects on stage and with music also organic in structure that provide for even greater amplification of the play’s themes, it’s a production that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theater.
Hats off to a stellar cast which besides Aje, who portrays the lead character, also features tremendous performances by Bridgette Amofah (Mum), Greg Bernstein (Harry), Nathaniel Christian (Anton), Eleanor Kane (Lily), Tom Lorcan (Dad), Sarah Quist (Ms. Godfrey), Lauran Rae (Sully) and Keith Gilmore (Monster).
As the monster tells us, “Stories are wild creatures – when you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?”
While Connor must tell his own story, he must also face his worst fears. And he does.
If you’re willing to shake out the cobwebs that have long occupied your mind, then “A Monster Calls” will do the trick – and a whole lot more.