Donnie’s got it tough. He’s not good at gym . . . the resident cool kid picks on him . . . his babysitter sees snakes in the furniture . . . his only friend at school is a gal even nerdier than he is . . . and his only friend at home is a sarcastic sock puppet who only appears long enough to snatch whatever self esteem Donnie managed to drag back home before disappearing back into the wall. Oh, and the monster under the bed wants to eat him. Yup, things don’t look good for Donnie.
Donnie And The Monsters (written by Robert J. Gibbs and directed by Heidi G.Grumelot) may play like a kid’s story but it’s anything but. For while – in Donnie’s world – there are monsters at every turn, often times it’s the ones of flesh and blood who can be the scariest: not a talking sock, or a wandering pirate, or a woebegone toilet or a green eyed monster – but rather a mean kid, or a forceful teacher, or a distracted mom. Donnie’s biggest enemies don’t exist in his imagination, but right along side him. The story of how Donnie copes and conquers his monsters is presented in an allegory. Using humor to breach some of life’s harder lessons, there’s no doubt that at the heart of this story is a coming of age tale – not just for Donnie but for some of his monsters as well.
Finely directed by Heidi Grumelot, Gibb’s wonderfully written play moves along swiftly and never fails to entertain. Simple yet effective puppet and prop design (by Elaine Jones) as well as other devices are used which play cleverly in the cozy space of UNDER St. Marks taking this story to a multidimensional level. Sound design by Hanna Weddle is some of the best I’ve heard in a long time – transformative and transportive.
The cast of Donnie is unparalleled in doing the job of hundreds (alright – almost a dozen). Richard Altmanshofer (as Donnie) does the perfect job of playing an earnest kid who just wants to make the world – his world at least – a little easier. Altmanshofer’s entire performance so embodies that inner child in us all that there are times you just want to give him a hug and tell him that by the time he turns 25 kids like him will be running the world in some Internet castle.
While Altmanshofer does most of the heavy lifting as Donnie high praise must be given to J.B. Rote who pulls double duty throughout the show as both nerdy school mate Ellen as well as pulled-together corporate Mom – not to mention the snake-seeing Mrs. Spizacky who comes across as Norma Desmond by way of Mrs. Roper. Her ability to pull off this quick change routine is outstanding – she never drops the ball and convincingly portrays each character from the inside out.
Paul Herbig as schoolyard bully Tommy also dons the Sock Puppet and between these two characters he’s the bane of Donnie’s existence. As Tommy, Herbig channels that antagonizer we’ve all faced at some point in our lives – the one who never leaves you alone but is acting out to hid some fears of his own. Matthew Wise as the Monster Under The Bed and Mr. TeeVee is most entertaining – his Monster is a fantastic mix of humor interlaced with kindness – unexpected from a monster, yet perfectly played by Wise. If you have to have a monster under the bed, this would be the one. As Mr. TeeVee Wise’s versatility really shines as he literally channel surfs through his own conversations. Yury Altmanshofer rounds out the cast as crazy gym coach Mr. Alfulsen (who is always pulling Donnie aside and giving him pointers on how to be cool) and Blackbeard who get mixed up in all of this because he’s on a quest of his own.
If you’re looking for a Sock Puppet play – obviously this one fits the bill. It does, after all, feature a sock puppet. However, I suggest you see Donnie And The Monsters simply because it happens to be a night of good theatre.
And then, just to be safe, make sure you put your socks in the hamper when you get home. You never know what a sock may whisper in your ear in the middle of the night . . .
~~~DONNIE AND THE MONSTERS WRITTEN BY ROBERT J. GIBBS DIRECTED BY HEIDI G. GRUMELOT Presented by Horse Trade Theater Group UNDER St. Marks 94 St. Marks Place (between 1st Ave and Ave A) September 1-18 Thursday through Saturday at 8pm and Saturday, September 18 at 3pm Tickets ($18) are available by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444 click here