Beginning with Alexander Strain’s opening lines it is obvious that Colleen Wagner’s The Monument, mounted at H Street Playhouse by Theater Alliance, is a play that describes horrible pain and suffering. This production draws you in to its tragic narrative and by plays end you find yourself left with many difficult questions to ponder. Not an evening of light entertainment, one should be prepared for something far more demanding in order to do the production justice. John Vreeke’s firm direction shines through the dark script, bringing out the human frailty that hides beneath the terror of war.
The plot is simple, during an unnamed genocide Alexander Strain (Stetko) has brutally murdered and raped twenty two young women and buried them where their families could not mourn their deaths. Convicted of war crimes, he awaits his execution strapped to a gurney. He describes the gory details of his crimes as he twists against the restraints. Jennifer Mendenhall (Mejra), a frail woman dressed in torn clothing steps from the audience with an offer he cannot refuse. Stetko is spared the gallows and agrees to follow her every direction for the rest of his life. What follows is a journey for both characters, one in which they discover unknown things about themselves and in addition they discover truths they wish could remain buried beneath the scorched earth of war. In the end we have feelings for both of them, both compassion and disdain and a lingering feeling that the terrors witnessed by these two people will be subjected on many more victims until people truly learn to communicate with each other.
Alexander Strain shows great range in a role that is different from any we have seen him in previously. His character is weak and filled with self loathing but has a violent evil side. Strain seems to grow in the role as the play progresses – at times his performance becomes so horribly real that his glare is terrifying.
Jennifer Mendenhall’s Mejra is incredibly complex but she handles it with seemed ease. This character holds inside her heavy burdens that threaten to drag her into the earth that holds not only her daughter but the thousands of nameless victims of terror and genocide. Ms. Mendenhall’s character becomes larger than life as the conclusion nears and she is able to show us both sides of this woman who has mixed feelings about the monster who murdered her child.
The set at H Street for this play was a dark, dirty stage that well represented the aftermath of war, the eye-sore of human inventions. Various articles of tattered female clothing are tacked to the rear wall of the stage as if to honor all that remains of their short lives.
In an interview with DCTR before the show Ms. Mendenhall expressed the importance of this and other plays that force us to reason through difficult questions and situations. The passion she brings to this play is significant and it is my feeling that this is not a show to miss. The Monument and its lessons are well worth your time.