Playwright: Mary Bonnett
At: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: $35; GreenhouseTheater.org/monger-tickets. Runs through: Sept. 30
Red light glows on a wooden desk, a small framed photo its only personal item. A neatly folded blanket rests on a leather club chair and a wet bar boasts half-full bottles. On the opposite side of the stage, metal chairs project coldness, impersonality. This is the set of Monger: masculine, unfeeling and sharp enough to cut.
If only the rest of the play were that interesting.
Inspired by a real-life case, Monger follows a day in the life of a closet pedophile. ( The title refers to a group of men who chat online about paying underage girls and women for sex, comparing notes and seeking their next fix. ) Playwright Mary Bonnett is clearly passionate about raising awareness of sex trafficking. Sadly, passion is never enough, especially in ripped-from-the-headlines stories. Monger's three characters are comically over-the-top, which makes it difficult to take the story seriously.
JB Benton ( Ira Amyx ) enters yapping on a headset about the violent altercation his teenage son got into with a bully. Immediately after, he logs on to his secret group of "hobbyists", and the salacious pictures and vomit-inducing requests fly. Monger's central character is cartoonish from the start: there's no way this sexist jerk isn't engaging in terrible acts.
One of the many shocking factors of sex trafficking is how prevalent it is, lurking just under the surface. Often, mongers are the people we don't suspect, such as popular British TV host Jimmy Savile, a Christian children's show presenter here in the United States and, to a different degree, Bill Cosby. JB doesn't have to be likable, but he has no nuance whatsoever, and the result is alienating. Bonnett also can't seem to decide whether JB is a prosecutor or a defense attorney, a crucial fact considering he's interviewing the mother of a murdered teenage girl.
Monger's other two characters aren't much better. JB's son Eddie ( Joshua Zambrano ) is a textbook misunderstood youth, referring to his dad as "Mein Fuhrer" and tossing off F-bombs while begging to go to art school. It's hard to believe this kid would try to kill a classmate, based on his outcast status and the fact that bullied students tend to turn the hurt on themselves, not others. Jamise Wright does her best as the grieving mother, but is reduced to the archetype of the disadvantaged woman who had no idea her daughter was engaging in illegal activity and had a pimp.
Because of Bonnett's poor writing, Monger is dull rather than shocking. Early in the play, one of JB's online buddies writes, "I love this hobby. I hate this hobby" and another types, "I hate being a Monger." In response I furiously scribbled, "Can't we follow these guys instead?"