A shadow that takes over a man’s life, monsters lurching across the stage, theological allusions—these are components of bad horror films. However, when they are applied to the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of the new work “Monstrous Doubles: Two New Plays,” these seemingly kitschy themes actually facilitate discussions of existence and fantasy. The show combines two one-act pieces: “The House of Shadows”—written and directed by Joshua R. McTaggart ’13, a Crimson staff writer—and “ Monster”—written by Daniel J. Giles ’13 and directed by Giles and Mariel N. Pettee ’14. The infectious energy of the cast, coupled with their impressive use of physical acting techniques, brings to light the grotesque side of human nature. This visual exploration of both plays themes raises questions of what it means to be an individual in modern society.
“The House of Shadows” follows the life of a struggling writer, billed in the play as the Learned Man (Peter K. Bestoso ’14), who longs to be remembered, both as a writer but also as a human being. He claims that a former lover was the only thing that made him feel alive. His shadow (Bryan D. Kauder ’14) acts as a physical manifestation of the writer’s hopes and dreams so can experience life in a way that the agoraphobic writer cannot. “ Monster”—based off of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”— combines drama and dance to explore how the dichotomy of monstrosity and humanity can be embodied in the same person.
“The House of Shadows” is heavily influenced by the work and life stories of both Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson and American playwright Charles Mee. Anderson’s short story “The Shadow”—which provided McTaggart’s play with its name—deals with issues of belonging and loss of innocence, and this dualism is brilliantly embodied by McTaggart’s direction. The Shadow is caught by a desperate desire to experience life independently from the Learned Man, but does not know how to do this. Just like a shadow, Kauder mimics Bestoso’s actions, in one scene moving perfectly in sync with his fellow actor. As the play progresses, he breaks free from Bestoso and begins to move of his own accord. McTaggart’s decision to visually demonstrate the link between the two characters was made all the more effective in the scene in which this connection is severed and the Shadow becomes a full-fledged person.
Kauder brilliantly embodied both the new powers and limitations his character experiences when becoming human. His gestures conveyed both the power and fear that comes with forming your own independent existence. When he finally breaks free of his reliance on the Man, Kauder reveals the inner turmoil his character is struggling with through movements as subtle as the twinge of his jaw.
The two halves of “Monstrous Doubles” are connected by an audio recording of a thunderstorm that plays both at the end of “The House of Shadows” and the beginning of “ Monster.” The characters in the second show are almost as wild as the thunderstorm that precedes them. The actors move convincingly like animals, crawling on the floor and snarling as if infected with rabies. The energy in the cast is astounding. Every swoon and pounce is perfectly in time with the soundtrack, and each movement is synchronized with the music, and each expression filled with emotional intensity. The actors play off of one another as if the entire cast was one organic entity. They complement each other’s movements, matching the sensual ebb and flow of each other’s actions. Moments that usually would seem banal become charged with sexual energy, to the point that even the actors grabbing each other’s scalps is made erotic.
All the actors do a phenomenal job, but Rebecca E. Feinberg ’13—who, like the entire cast of “ Monster” plays a character named “”—is especially impressive, playing a savage creature as well as a child with a lisp. Interspersed with leapfrogging and imaginative prose, the references to innocence are again an appropriate echo of the previous play—in which the Learned Man bemoans the fact that he has lost the carefree nature of his youth—although now in an entirely different context. While in “Shadows,” the graceful lines have a twinge of sorrow to them, in “Monster” all pain is overwhelmed by the beauty of the dancing and physical acting. Even unbearably violent scenes were gorgeously done, the frequent retching and strangling noises adding to a sense of the grotesque nature of humanity.
Between leading a blind man to walk and referencing scripture with lines like, “You may be my creator but I am your master,” there was indubitably an undertone of religious allusion in “Monsters” and “Shadows.” Both deal with elements of power and self-worth, of existence and what it means to be real if not validated by others. While each show takes a very different spin on these questions of existence, both are extremely passionate and powerful new productions that illuminate existential aspects of humanity.