Creepy ‘Monogamy’ Kills with Laughter at Rust Belt Theater

By J.E.Ballantyne, Jr.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Rust Belt Theatre Co. has long laid its foundation in the production of original material. It is, in fact, the only local theater that relies strictly on that format.

Risky yes, but The Rust Belt has successfully stood the test of time by traveling that highway. Their latest offering is no exception to that entertainment journey.

“Serial Monogamy” opened Friday night to a curious and appreciative audience. With a book by Robert Dennick Joki and music by Joki and Josh Taylor, “Monogamy” takes a look, albeit humorous, at love and serial killers.

Yes, you read that correctly. What two subjects could be at further ends of the spectrum than the subject of this imaginative musical.

As lights come up, we meet James, played by Austin Brown, and Elizabeth, played by Lynn Sabeh. They are meeting for the first time on what is essentially a blind date — they met online.

The awkwardness displayed by each actor was handled excellently as each struggles to find something to say, much less something to turn into a conversation. I am sure most people in the audience could relate to something similar many years ago in their own lives. But that is where similarities end.

As the scene moves along, we find out much more about these two. In the interest of not giving things away, I will not be specific. Go see it and find out.

Both Brown and Sabeh carry the load of much of the show being on stage for almost the entire show. Their character depths are well defined as they move seamlessly from emotion to emotion. Their comedic timing, particularly in the first scene, is first rate. Each displays strong acting ability as their characters change toward a dramatic climax. They’re on-stage chemistry sells these characters very well.

To say that “Monogamy” is creepy is to say that it hit the mark by mixing strong emotion with absurd comedy. In that vein is Betty (Geri DeWitt), who plays James’ mother. She is such a sweet understanding lady (or is she?). Her song “A Mother’s Love” showed her considerable talent.

Nurse Janine, played by Leah Ifft, gave the audience an early injection of laughter with her number, “Happy Ending,” as she humorously dispatches unsuspecting patients. Both scenes showed overtones of Psycho and Little Shop of Horrors.

A highlight of the show is the recurring appearance of Mr. Fingers (Kage Coven), a kids’ show host, and his clowns, played by Eric Glasgow and Josh Yohman. From their humorous early appearances to the sinister “Everyone Loves a Clown,” they were an audience favorite.

“Monogamy” also makes very effective use of a sort of Greek chorus at various parts in the show. They pop in and out at different times helping to move the action along and serve as backup singers on selected songs. In the entertaining Act II opener, “The Weaker Sex,” homage (I guess you could say) is paid to three famous murderesses; Lizzie (Brooke Nobbs), Elizaa(Mary Boldish James), and Erzsebet (Celena Coven). A crowd pleaser to be sure.

Joki, who also directed, has hit the mark again in the tradition of the Rust Belt Theater Company. He has assembled a talented cast that handled the subject matter, along with the comedy, in fine fashion. There were only a few glitches to opening night. There were times when music, mainly underscoring, was to high,thus overriding actors lines.

By the same token both Brownand Sabeh dropped ends of lines mainly early on, thus losing what I’m sure were good tidbits left unheard.

Check out Serial Monogamy at the Rust Belt running the next two weekends.

Sept. 20, 21, 27, 28
Rust Belt Theater Company
755 Mahoning Ave.
330 507 2358

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