Encore Michigan

‘Monsters of the American Cinema’ sets up camp with the Penny Seats

Review April 16, 2023 David Kiley

ANN ARBOR, MI–Families are made, but also formed out of circumstance. This has especially been the case among LGBTQ folks whose birth family often does not understand or approve of a queer life.

At the core of Christian St. Croix’s Monsters of the American Cinema, presented by The Penny Seats here from April 7-22, is the family bond between Remy Washington (Scott Carpenter II) and his step-son, Peter “Pup” (Cole Hunter Dzubak) the son of his late partner who died of an overdose three years before the setting of the play.

They live in a trailer behind a drive-in theatre they operate. The two share a love of classic monster and horror movies. Like some fathers and sons banter about baseball to trigger closeness, these two drill one another trivia about the old horror flicks.

In many respects, Remy and Pup reflect a very modern and normal family unit. But besides Pup being straight and Remy gay, Remy is black and Pup is white. Their different orientations and life narratives lay under the trailer like an unseen underground stream, but, of course, that stream bubbles up, or we would have no play.

St. Croix has the to actors talking to the audience almost as often as they are talking to one another. Remy tries to skirt the role of cool Dad, older brother, but occasionally is just Pup’s dead Dad’s black gay partner, like when Pup comes home to discover that there is a man taking a shower after he and Remy had sex.

The play is written with a staccato rhythm of monologues and dialogue. I’m not sure why the playwright made that choice, because at times it gets in the way of following the emotions of the characters and even seems to challenge the line-learning of the actors. And it seems arbitrary, and not helpful to the story.

Directed by Craig Ester, the set is simple, but true to the story. There are camp chairs on the floor, below the Stone Chalet performance space, reflecting the reality of where you hang out when you live in a trailer. There is a simple table and chairs. And on the screen behind the stage, we see projections of the drive-in’s offering–notably The Creature From the Black Lagoon.

The approach to exploring the relationship between these two characters, as well as the relationship they have as a unit with their surroundings and society, through the simple but effective motif of monster movies and their true villains is quite clever. It’s the use of big images and nostalgic stories as a seeming misdirection, but one that illuminates St. Croix’s take on the conflicting personalities and lives in front of us.

For more information, tickets and show-times got to The Penny Seats website.