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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Monstrous Regiment at Lifeline Theater

Or: The Girl I left behind me

In Chris Hainsworth's adaptation of Terry Pratchett's satyric masterpiece Monstrous Regiment we find ourselves in the war torn hills and vales of Borogravia, a small, bad tempered, vaguely eastern european country, facing war and invasion from its equally bad tempered and vaguely eastern european neighbors. As the countrysides corrodes into chaos Polly Perks (Sarah Price), resolves to leave her life as a bar maid and find out what happened to her brother Paul who joined up a year before and who's letters have stopped coming. Following the folksongs of yore she disguises herself as Olivier Perks, a striping intent on joining for patriotic duty, and falls under the care of legendary Sargent Jackrum (Christopher M. Walsh) and in with a group of ragtag misfits: Wazzer (Melissa Engle) a religious fanatic, Tonker and Lofty (Kim Boler and Mandy Walsh) a pair of rather … close comrades, Carborundum (Justine C. Turner) a troll, Maladict (Michaela Pestro) a vampire and Igor (Katie McLean Hainsworth) an … Igor. Under the command of the well meaning but delicate Lieutenant Blouse (Robert Kauzlaric) Poll finds herself facing overwhelming odds, certain death, and questions about her life and and her country she was never meant to ask. It all knits up into a most absurd play on the absurdities of war and one of the most direct and inspiring feminist stories you will ever come across, my word of honor.

But hold on, I hear you say. Trolls? Vampires? Igors? I'm supposed to take this seriously? Well yes, dear reader. Pratchett's greatest contributions to literature are through his humorist picks-a-part of modern society and the human condition but he is primarily a fantasy writer. Monstrous Regiment is part of a Discworld series, a 30+ collection of independent novels, takeing place on a world not so different from our own, save for its dependence on "Narrative Causality" or in layman's terms: Story trumps Science. Lifeline Theater does a good job of explaining the rules of the disc in their program and promotional material but it can best be described as Middle Earth in the late 19th Century with a bit of Hammer-Horror Transylvania thrown in for taste. Humans pretty much run the show but the trolls have come out of the mountains seeking work as laborers (and soldiers), Vampires have formed a temperance league ("Lips that touch Ichor shall never touch mine") and Igors are revered in a stand offish way as the most highly prized surgeons (though when they say something will cost you "an arm and a leg" they are not being figurative). It all makes sense in context and is drizzled in a nice sugary glaze of humor that fits all tastes (High word play to the basest of genitalia jokes). Don't be put off by the fantasy figures, you'll find their more human than you would think.

Hainsworth is to be commended not only for translating the rules of this world to the stage but also incorporating Pratchett's narrative wit (usually placed in the mouths of sly snarkers like Jackrum or Maladict)> Unfortunately, because the book is so well knitted together the necessary cuts give the play a rushed feel, and have to be cued up with the obviously obligatory Saving Private Ryan style, lets-go-round-and-learn-everyone's-life-story-before-the-killing-starts. At least he's made an effort to leap the chasms of plot cuts heroically, and director Kevin Theis has captured both the over-the-top silliness and deadly seriousness that gives the novel its light.

This same serious silliness is sized with both hands (or claws) by the company, a fine collection of comedians. The larger than life characters like Maladict, Igor and Blouse have a tendency to eclipse the stage (Petro and McLean Hainsworth are clearly enjoying themselves) with their swelling notes of nefariousness, oddity and flamboyance, respectively. But they are well matched by the more down played but still vigorous strains of Engle, Bolar and Walsh who fit their own characters with just as much power, if not quite so much oomph. Price makes a good every"man" often pushed to the sidelines but always keeping a running silent commentary of disbelief as things go from bad to worse and from worse to just awful. She reflects here scene partners they way a mirror does a candle, showing her own luster in another's shine. And Walsh was simply born to play Jackrum: with his cadaverous deadpan, nuanced earnestness as he tries to see "his little lads" safe through the war, and the occasional flutters of impish joy, as he proves himself yet again to be a man full of surprises.

In addition to its tom foolery, it's jokes on cross dressing and regulation cannibalism, its swashbuckling and soldiers miracles, Monstrous Regiment is a very powerful, pointed and poignant show. It's a war story, steeped in gallows' humor covering just how awful it can be, and it's a comedy of the first order, but it's ultimately not about Polly as a solider but as a woman, learning to make her own destiny and cut her ties with the society that prized her as less than a man. It's about a band of comrades fighting not for duchess and country but the right to define themselves as men, women, even creatures from fairytales. This is why Pratchett has articulated and Hainsworth has captured and why, for all its weirdness, you ought to see Monsterous Regiment: to laugh long and learn much, and fight the good, peaceful fight for a better world.

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