Inhuman Architecture

John Glore
 | Apr 28, 2017
The Monster Builder Cast

THE CAST: ​Colette Kilroy, Annie Abrams, Aubrey Deeker, Danny Scheie, Susannah Schulman Rogers and Gareth Williams in The Monster Builder.

Amy Freed

​Playwright Amy Freed.

The plot of Amy Freed’s satirical comedy, The Monster Builder, hinges on the fate of a decaying boathouse, hidden away in a city park. The city planners are of a mind to tear the old boathouse down, but Dieter and Rita, a husband-and-wife architect team with their own little boutique firm, have put forward a proposal to preserve it. They have in mind a respectful, restorative design that will retain all the vernacular charm and simple serenity of the original, while fortifying it and reclaiming it as a gathering place for the community.

As the play begins, Rita and Dieter have been invited to the home of world-renowned “starchitect” Gregor Zubrowski, whose designs proclaim his massive ego in audacious, irrational outbursts of post-postmodern excess. His own house is a prime example: it’s made almost entirely of glass, a fact that Gregor’s live-in trophy girlfriend, Tamsin, finds disconcerting—especially since there’s a fish camp nearby, filled with ogling anglers.

Gregor’s architectural approach, with its disregard for social responsibility and human usefulness, goes against everything Dieter believes in, and he has no patience for Gregor’s self-aggrandizing posturing. But Rita is starstruck and at the first opportunity, eagerly tells Gregor about the boathouse project, hoping to impress him. She enthuses about the structure’s “special resonance,” its almost divine imperturbability.

When Gregor learns that the boathouse is the work of a 19th-century architect named Josephus Van Eijk, he shows keen interest, perhaps even a kind of wary concern—and as soon as Rita and Dieter have left, Gregor is on the phone to the head of the planning commission to offer his own services for the boathouse project.

Just why a world-famous architect who specializes in monumental edifices would be interested in the renovation of a quaint old boathouse is a question that perplexes both Dieter and Rita—but when Gregor invites Rita to join him on the project, she sets aside her concerns so as to take advantage of the career opportunity. Dieter, on the other hand, determines to get to the bottom of the mystery and, when he does, he’s stunned to learn the truth about Gregor, the designer of architectural monstrosities. Rita, meanwhile, falls further and further under Gregor’s spell.

Two other characters figure importantly in Dieter’s plan to stop Gregor and save Rita from his corrupting influence. They are Pamela and Andy Rogers-Pandermint, a wealthy couple who have hired Rita and Dieter’s firm to remodel one of their many homes, “Casa Chateau.” Pam and Andy have fond memories of the old boathouse​—and Pam has a particular reason for hating Gregor and his work—so they agree to join Dieter in his mission to defeat the monster builder. But they may have underestimated their adversary, a miscalculation that could have dire consequences.

In The Monster Builder, playwright Amy Freed gives vent to her own dismay at some of the trends in contemporary architecture, and her sense that our cities are being despoiled by the work of today’s starchitects. “I try to bring these concerns into a language that’s theatrical, that’s fun, that’s a little outrageous,” says Freed, “to provoke discussion and reaction.” The reactions the play provokes are likely to range from hilarity to a kind of delighted horror.

The play appeared in a staged reading in the 2010 Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) under the title, Right to the Top, and marks Freed’s return to SCR after a long absence. Four previous Freed plays were commissioned by SCR and had their world premieres here: Freedomland (Segerstrom Stage, 1997), The Beard of Avon (Segerstrom, 2001), Safe in Hell (Segerstrom, 2004) and You, Nero (Argyros Stage, 2009). Her newest play, SHREW! (freely adapted from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew), had readings in both the NewSCRipts series and PPF this season and is scheduled for production in the Segerstrom Stage in 2018.

Directing The Monster Builder at SCR is Freed’s longtime friend and collaborator, Art Manke; early in their careers, the two were acting students together at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. Manke, known to SCR audiences for his work on such productions as Peter and the Starcatcher, Noises Off and Taking Steps, helmed two previous stagings of The Monster Builder in Portland and Berkeley.

Taking on the role of Gregor Zubrowski in SCR’s production is Danny Sheie, who also played the equally outrageous title role in SCR’s production of Freed’s You, Nero. More recently, Sheie was seen at SCR as Gareth, the beleaguered head waiter in One Man, Two Guvnors.

Susannah Schulman-Rogers returns to SCR to play Rita, having previously appeared here in Three Days of Rain (2011), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2011), The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler and several annual productions of A Christmas Carol, among others. Playing opposite her as Dieter is Aubrey Deeker, making his SCR debut. Deeker has extensive national and international theatre credits as well as numerous television and film appearances.

Rounding out the cast are Annie Abrams as Tamsin, Colette Kilroy as Pamela and Gareth Williams as Andy. Kilroy, among her many previous SCR appearances, played Mrs. Doakes in Freed’s Safe in Hell, while Williams appeared in SCR’s 1998 world premiere of Richard Greenberg’s Hurrah at Last. Abrams is making her first SCR appearance, apart from playing Bianca in the 2016 NewSCRipts reading of Freed’s SHREW!

Read more about the cast of The Monster Builder here.

The design team for Manke’s production includes longtime SCR collaborators Thomas Buderwitz (sets) and Angela Balogh Calin (costumes) who have each designed more than 20 productions at SCR. They are joined by Kent Dorsey (lights), who returns after having designed several SCR shows in the 1980s; and Rodolfo Ortega (original music and soundscape) making his SCR design debut.

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