Arts Listings

The Theater: FoolsFURY Stages ‘Monster in the Dark’

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Tuesday February 05, 2008

In gathering darkness from a storm—or in a dark prisoner’s cell—a disparate group of characters find themselves confronting fears over safety, security, their own behavior—primal fears. What’s in the darkness? A monster? Am I becoming a monster?  

As foolsFURY’s premiere of Monster in the Dark goes on, the individual characters telling stories to themselves or others (or just consoling themselves about their fears) begin to meet as their stories overlap and interpenetrate against the dark backdrop of impending disaster—a deluge which official channels continue to downplay, as torrential rains fall and waters rise.  

The personae are various, eccentric, and all a little bit humorous: an Ancient Mariner type, clinging to the rigging of a ladder on the edge of the stage; a bonneted proselytizer for faith and salvation, waiting for an ark; a prisoner in a tower, who writes his way through the wall; a spinsterish schoolteacher who departs from the approved tales in her storybook and finds herself meeting the prisoner in the darkness of a spooky story. 

Weaving these vignettes together is the talented cast assembled by foolsFURY, the decade-and-a-half-old San Francisco-based physical theater troupe, which performed a workshop version of the origins of Monster in the Dark at Ashby Stage three years ago, as part of Shotgun Lab. It’s called a spectacle on the program. Ben Yalom, foolsFURY’s founder and artistic director, has guided his performers through Doug Dorst’s tale of snowballing disaster—and stories—a little like acrobats in an arena (the audience is on two sides of the playing area), who not only take on sometimes shifting identities, but become an ensemble of, say, waves and victims borne away in pas-de-deux.  

The six onstage seem, at times, like many more: Beth Wilmurt, Blythe Foster, Deborah Eliezer, Jessica Kitchens, Peter Rucco and Ryan Tasker (Eliezer is the only member of foolsFURY’s standing company). Adroit at shifting identities—and identities that shift—these half-dozen grip the audience with both soliloquies and dialogue, with monologues delivered by one to another listening as well as by pure theatrics, kinetic stage artistry—all action.  

Doug Dorst has worked with foolsFURY before, as dramaturge for three other productions. The long, painstaking process to make Monster in the Dark (which runs over two hours) is sometimes almost palpable in the interstices between the vignettes, as they merge and become a full-fledged, multi-character story. Dorst is a novelist and creative writing instructor. There are moments in the second act that seem closer to narrative—especially with a 1984-ish backdrop like Monster in the Dark’s The Structure, with its ever-present Umbrella Men keeping the peace. There’s something of a switch to a different pace, a different density, once the frame of the whole story becomes more apparent.  

But the flurries of action and dialogue provide much pure theater-in-the-round, and the spectacle ends on two striking images—a kind of ark, or ship of fools (appropriately enough), and a solitary, if buoyant, expression of hope amid the sea of waves.  

Interestingly enough, Ben Yalom related that during the Shotgun Lab process, audience members seemed to split on generational lines over their comprehension of vignettes, whether framed or not by a comprehensive story. In the unfolding—or is it folding?—of this tale, the more mysterious fragments of voice and action, gesture and tableaux seem at first more theatrically suggestive than when the ensemble gets on more equal footing—albeit in a cataclysm.  

Yalom also said foolsFURY, in residence the past few years at SF’s Traveling Jewish Theatre, where they hold their Fury Factory festivals of experimental troupes from around the country, intends to perform in Berkeley more in the future. This is good news for spectators who value—or who’d like to discover—such accomplished seekers of spectacle, of the art of presenting a living, mobile image composed for all the senses, as foolsFURY is. 



8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 17 at the Ashby Stage, 2901 Ashby Ave. $12-$30. (800) 838-3006.