Stephen Peirick's Monsters Portrays Bumbling Criminals in South City 

Jeremy (Kevin O'Brien) tries to sink into the wall while Andi (Sarajane Alverson) interrogates her husband (Jeremy Goldmeier).

JOHN LAMB

Jeremy (Kevin O'Brien) tries to sink into the wall while Andi (Sarajane Alverson) interrogates her husband (Jeremy Goldmeier).

The "perfect crime" is a staple of the thriller. Local playwright Stephen Peirick selected it as the subject of his new play, Monsters, but with a twist: What if a pair of typical St. Louis jack-offs took a stab at the perfect crime? The result is hilarious, and not a little chilling, in Stray Dog Theatre's world-premiere production.

The action begins when Andi (Sarajane Alverson) goes down to the basement, where she finds her lunkhead of a brother-in-law Jeremy (Kevin O'Brien) looming over the bound and gagged form of a bloody man. Her day only gets worse when she learns that her husband Davis (Jeremy Goldmeier) is masterminding a murder-for-hire plot. Jeremy is the muscle, and also the weak link in the plan; Andi had little difficulty getting him to spill the beans, and she's still in her pajamas.

Peirick, a veteran actor and playwright at 41, writes hard-nosed women and soft-headed men, which he throws together in ridiculous situations. Monsters continues that grand tradition. Andi may be a cosmetologist, but she's as dogged — and as physically intimidating — in her line of questioning as a veteran cop. Alverson uses a combination of withering power eyes (every husband or child caught in a lie has seen them) and clipped sentences to convey her fury, which starts at slow burn and then quickly flames out.

click to enlarge Nope, this gang definitely can't shoot straight. - JOHN LAMB
  • JOHN LAMB
  • Nope, this gang definitely can't shoot straight.

You can't really blame her, because O'Brien's Jeremy is exasperatingly good at derailing a conversation. Whether he's bragging about the criminal knowledge required to buy an illegal pistol on Craigslist or his mistaken belief that Andi "doesn't understand" The Godfather and he needs to explain it to her, he unwittingly pushes every button she has. O'Brien displays an innocent, goofball charm in the role that helps the show skip merrily along.

The sudden arrival of Andi's sister Piper (Eileen Engel) further derails Jeremy's explanation. She's a good-looking troublemaker who's currently on probation, and her flirtatious nature draws Jeremy off-course. The sisters make a formidable pair that should be able to get the whole story out of the big guy, but Jeremy is fixated on the fact that Piper has her own key and comes over every week to do laundry without supervision.

Peirick sprinkles various references to his St. Louis setting throughout the script, but the most telling is Piper's declaration, "This is why I hate this city: These are the kind of guys you and I end up with," referring to the two hapless brothers. All the while, that bloody hostage (Michael A Wells) is either stashed in the closet or trying to tippy-toe his way closer to the gun that's been left unattended.

It's a credit to the script and to Gary F. Bell's adroit direction that you can never quite see where Monsters is headed, even when the whole plot is laid bare. The end comes as a short, sharp, uproarious shock, and it fulfills the promise baked into the title. There be monsters in south St. Louis basements, if you know where to look.

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