| Stage |

Funny, Gruesome, Beautiful Monster at the Door

The setup: Gregory Boyd certainly has an eye for young talent. A few years ago he invited then nearly unknown playwright Rajiv Joseph to become an Alley Company Artist, and in 2009 the company staged a world premiere of his Gruesome Playground Injuries. Now Boyd has dibs on another Joseph premiere, Monster at the Door, at the same time that Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is playing to hosannas on Broadway, and starring Robin Williams.

The execution:

In Monster Joseph continues to explore the territory he staked out in Gruesome Playground Injuries. That is, he again delights in taking hidden pain -- emotional, psychic and physical -- and making it public; his characters are defined by their suffering.

And as in the earlier work, you want to make air quotes when you refer to the play's "plot." It concerns the troubled, visionary artist who has been given a million-dollar commission to create a work of art to grace a corporate lobby, the corporate art curator who becomes a mystic healer after she's struck by a meteor, the corporate tax attorney who has fallen in love--literally--with the ocean, and a security guard who has read too much Homer.

The verdict:

It's a bold assemblage, all right, held together by Joseph's wicked sense of humor and dazzling feel for theater magic. He is joined in that magic by visiting director Daniella Topol, and by the splendid cast, all of whom are making their Alley debuts.

For now I'll mention just a couple of actors. In her transformation from corporate tastemaker to suffering mystic, Rebecca Brooksher's Tonise undergoes as profound and thrilling a change as a character can make. And Brian Reddy finds unsuspected depths to his tormented security guard's soul.

Monster at the Door is funny, gruesome, and beautiful, often all at the same time.

The play runs through May 29 at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For tickets, call 713-220-5700.

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