The 16th Annual Monologue Festival, produced in the off-season between fall and winter productions, is probably unknown to most students outside of the drama department. Without the profile or publicity associated with the New Plays Festival, the Monologue Festival is like a neglected little brother. A mad genius little brother. For what the Monologue Festival may lack in publicity, it more than compensates for in manic, misanthropic spirit. With no restrictions on content or style, the show’s greatest asset is its unpredictability. Each of the festival’s monologues teams one writer, one director, and one actor up to craft a five-minute one-man show, whether it be about disguised princes or Hollywood stunt doubles.
The show consists of 10 monologues, selected through auditions (there were some 20 submissions this year). Judging from the festival’s title (16 years!?), the Monologue Festival enjoys an established following at UCSB. And, following Sunday’s performance, it’s easy to see why.
An industry event, performed, written and produced by students, the festival, performed Jan. 13 and 14 in the Studio Theatre, is characterized by an easy familiarity and sense of fun. From a wry program including a “Complimentary Guide to Proper Theatre Etiquette” to the tongue-in-cheek opening ceremony from the festival’s producers, understated irony is the flavor of the evening.
This year’s monologues seem to be unified by an unofficial theme. Most of the monologues present people in everyday jobs and roles (a teacher, a housewife, a motivational speaker) living lives of quiet desperation, and their monologues are mission statements of their neuroses, raving, rhapsodic soliloquies. From an inebriated, sexually-frustrated, muffin-baking housewife to a janitor whose life ambition is to live the complacent aquatic life of a sea cow, these people are hilarious, unnerving and somehow familiar.
One of the few dramatic monologues featured in the show, “Invisible” was the tale of an invisible friend who realizes, terrifyingly, that he is no longer needed by the boy who imagined him. The monologue plays with companionship and loss, turning an old thematic ploy on its head. Actor Charlie Granville’s desperation is convincing and authentic, and the script by Havilah Imfeld gives him strong support.
Similarly enjoyable is Stuart Zinke’s “Parent/Teacher Conference,” which features a maimed schoolteacher in an after-school conference with the parents of the child from hell. In a performance reminiscent of Amy Sedaris, Amy Gumenick’s so-cheery-she’s-breaking-inside teacher shares drawing after crayon drawing of her being crippled by speeding buses, and ultimately suggests that the parents order a hit on their child. The sets and costuming are admirable, especially when contrasted against the sparse treatment usually given to monologues. Of particular interest was the workplace employed in the monologue “A Quick Fix,” strewn as it was with doll parts, moon boots and prescription pill bottles. It’s the mark of great set design when the setting tells you as much about the character as the monologue itself.
Though the monologue may be a solitary art, the festival demonstrates only solidarity in dedication, humor and perversion. The Monologue Festival showcases talent rarely seen in other outlets at UCSB, with actors and writers journeying into strange realms only touched upon in the New Plays Festival. For a walk on the far side of UCSB performance art, theater-goers need look no further than the Monologue Festivals to come.