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Edward Rubin

7th Monarch
Who Done It? Or Was It Done At All?

L to R: Gretchen Hall as Miriam Hemmerick and Leslie Hendrix as Raina Briar in "7th Monarch," a new play by Jim Henry at Theatre Row.

"7th Monarch"
Written by Jim Henry
Directed by Scott C. Embler
Set Design Shoko Kambara
Lighting D.M. Wood
Costume Design David Withrow
Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
New York, New York
Tickets can be purchased online at Acorn Theatre website,
at the box office, or by Telecharge 212-239-6200, 800-239-6200
Schedule: Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 3 PM & 8 PM,
Thursday at 8 PM, Sunday at 3 PM.
Play running from June 12 – September 9, 2012
Tickets $75.00
Reviewed by Edward Rubin, Thursday, June 22, 2012

Despite 7th Monarch’s familiar storyline – seen, all too often, on the stage, TV, and at the movies, and a number of quirkily embroidered disclosures stretched to the outer limits of believability by Chicago based playwright Jim Henry – my eyes and ears, and those of my date du jour, were riveted to the stage as we watched what is something of a who done it or was it done at all, unfold bit by bit. While some silly wags could dismiss the generic production as a ‘been there done that’ production, I personally loved spending the time with each of the play’s five characters. It was like being with family.

The play takes place in an “average- sized town in Indiana” in 1991, and has as many twists and turns as the rollercoaster in Coney Island. It begins mysteriously with the always wonderful Raina Briar (Leslie Hendrix) knocking on the door of Miriam Hemmerick’s (Gretchen Hall) home. After an excessive amount of mood-setting knocking, Miriam, seen running crazily from room to room, opens the door hesitatingly and Raina enters. Within a few minutes of strained verbal exchanges – most of Miriam’s are unintelligible – we learn that Raina is here to investigate a Social Security fraud case, and Miriam’s brain is not quite right.

With Miriam’s parents nowhere to be seen, the prime question ends up being, what happened to her parents. Her answer, like much of her indecipherable babblings, “the stars went into their mouths and into their lungs and they went away in the comet,” as well as her extremely strange behavior which baffles everybody, not exactly a cogent answer, leads to her being thrown into jail – one would think the loony bin would be more proper – as well as becoming the chief suspect in her parents possible murder. Soon enough Miriam and Raina, who slowly is becoming evermore sympathetic towards Miriam, are surrounded by the play’s 3 male leads, each one hoping to have the definitive say in determining Miriam’s fate.

Grey Collins (Matthew Humphreys), a caring, but mostly untried public defender is assigned to Miriam’s case. Kenneth Sharpe (Michael Rupert) a self-serving judge who needs a murder conviction to boost his chances for re-election – he wants Miriam convicted immediately, the sooner the better. Leo Garnes (Michael Cullen) is a world-weary detective on the brink of retirement. All he wants is to serve out his remaining days in peace and quiet. This being a small town – and we all know about small towns – everybody knows everybody’s business. Of course, each character has a play-changing secret which is a great part of the play’s fun.

All of the actors, beautifully directed by Scott C. Embler turn in compelling performances on a sparsely furnished, newspaper strewn set by Shoko Kambara. Like one happy family, they all seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. However, the success of the 7th Monarch (as written and need be acted) rests squarely on Miriam’s shoulders, a responsibility that Gretchen Hall, more than lives up to. Playing what appears to be a mentally disturbed person – a cross between a schizophrenic and an idiot savant – Hall’s finely calibrated, over-the-top, while still being sensitive, star-in-the-making performance, is stellar. I see good things in her future.

This said, we never really know, despite the play’s unconvincing ending in which the playwright attempts to explain everything in one fell swoop, whether or not Miriam is a certified schizophrenic, your everyday idiot savant, or the playwright’s imaginative conceit. The fact that much of what Miriam says throughout the play makes sense only to herself, that she remembers every newspaper article she ever read – an interesting ploy used throughout the play – and insists on wearing an astronaut’s helmet when shopping at the local supermarket, are just a few of the idiosyncratic, case-making clues, the playwright drops along the way.

Edward Rubin, based in New York City, writes on the arts, culture, and entertainment. He can be reached at erubin5000@aol.com.

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