Despite 7th Monarch’s familiar storyline –all too often seen on stage, TV, and movie screens, this time amid quirky, embroidered disclosures stretching the outer limits of believability by Chicago-based playwright Jim Henry – my eyes and ears, and those of my date-du-jour, were riveted to the stage as we watched the ‘who-done-it?’, perhaps better-described as a ‘was-it-done-at-all?’, unfold bit by bit. While some silly wags might have dismissed this generic production with ‘been there, done that’, I personally loved spending time with each of the play’s five characters. It was like being with family.
Above: GRETCHEN HALL (l) as Miriam Hemmerick and LESLIE HENDRIX (r) as Raina Briar in 7th MONARCH, a new play by Jim Henry at Theatre Row. All Photos: Carol Rosegg. artes fine arts magazine
’Monarch’ takes place in 1991 in an “average- sized town in Indiana”, and has as many twists and turns as the Coney Island roller coaster. It begins mysteriously with the always- wonderful Raina Briar (Leslie Hendrix) knocking on the door of Miriam Hemmerick’s (Gretchen Hall) home. After an excessive amount of mood-setting knocking, Miriam is seen running crazily from room to room, opening the door hesitantly as Raina enters. Within several minutes of strained verbal exchange – most of Miriam’s is unintelligible – we learn that Raina is there to investigate a Social Security fraud case, and that Miriam’s brain is not quite right.
Right: LESLIE HENDRIX (l) as Raina Briar and MICHAEL RUPERT (r) as Kenneth Sharpe in 7th MONARCH, a new play by Jim Henry at Theatre Row.
With Miriam’s parents nowhere in sight, the prime question becomes ‘what happened to her parents?’ Her answer, like much of her indecipherable babbling: “the stars went into their mouths and into their lungs and they went away in the comet”– not exactly a cogent answer– as well as her extremely strange behavior which baffles everybody, lead to her being thrown into jail – one would think the loony bin more appropriate – and to be the chief suspect in her parents’ possible murder. Soon enough Miriam and Raina, who is slowly becoming evermore sympathetic towards Miriam, are surrounded by the play’s three male leads, each hoping to have the definitive say in determining Miriam’s fate.
Grey Collins (Matthew Humphreys), a caring, but mostly untried public defender, is assigned to the case. Kenneth Sharpe (Michael Rupert), a self-serving judge who needs a murder conviction to boost his chances for re-election, wants Miriam convicted immediately, the sooner the better. Leo Garnes (Michael Cullen) plays a world-weary detective on the brink of retirement. All he wants is to serve out his remaining days in peace and quiet. This being a small town – and we all know about small towns – everybody knows everybody else’s business. Of course, each character has a play-changing secret — a great part of the play’s fun!
All of the actors, beautifully directed by Scott C. Embler, turn in compelling performances on a sparsely furnished, newspaper-strewn set by Shoko Kambara. Like one big, happy family, they all seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. However, the success of the 7th Monarch (as written and to be acted) rests squarely on Miriam’s shoulders, a responsibility that Gretchen Hall, more than lives up to. Playing a seemingly mentally disturbed person – a cross between a schizophrenic and an idiot savant – Hall’s finely-calibrated, over-the-top, while-still-sensitive, star-in-the-making performance, is truly ‘stellar’. I see good things in her future.
Left to right: MICHAEL RUPERT, MICHAEL CULLEN, GRETCHEN HALL and MATTHEW HUMPHREYS in 7th MONARCH, a new play by Jim Henry at Theatre Row.
This said, we viewers never really know, despite the play’s unconvincing ending in which the playwright attempts to explain everything in one fell swoop, whether or not Miriam is a certified schizophrenic, your everyday idiot savant, or merely the playwright’s imaginative conceit. The fact that much of what Miriam says in ‘Monarch’ makes sense only to herself, that she remembers every newspaper article she ever read – an interesting ploy used through the play– and insists on wearing an astronaut’s helmet when shopping at the local supermarket, are just a few of the idiosyncratic, case-making clues, the playwright drops along the way.
So, no matter ‘who done it’… it was done well!
By Edward Rubin, Contributing Writer
Edward Rubin, based in New York City, writes on the arts, culture, and entertainment. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Jim Henry
Directed by Scott C. Embler
Set Design Shoko Kambara
Lighting D.M. Wood
Costume Design David Withrow
Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
New York, New York
Tickets can be purchased online at Acorn Theatre website,
at the box office, or by Telecharge 212-239-6200, 800-239-6200
Schedule: Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 3 PM & 8 PM,
Thursday at 8 PM, Sunday at 3 PM.
Play running from June 12 – September 9, 2012
Reviewed by Edward Rubin, Thursday, June 22, 2012
Thanks to: Jim Randolph Media Relations, 1530 Broadway, Suite 300, New York, NY 10036 (212) 704-9894