The Monster Trilogy

by R. M. Vaughan
ISBN: 1552451321

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A Review of: The Monster Trilogy
by Keith Garebian

Poet, filmmaker, and playwright R.M. Vaughan has created a fascinating monologic triptych about three female monsters-a real-life murderer who killed her own young sons and two other women afflicted with paranoia or violence. The triple bill of monologues (all roughly the same text length) implicitly counts on the reader/audience as a partner, albeit a silent one. Each monologue can stand on its own, but taken together, they are strong morality pieces about the "normality" of monsters and the monstrousness of the "normal." However, they aren't polemical; nor do they shoot documentary material at us. As in all monologues, they unfold like an emotional or psychic unburdening.
All the women have a palpable existential and essential reality. Susan Smith ("The Susan Smith Tapes") is in prison for having sent her car (with her young sons trapped inside) into a muddy lake. The other two women are fictions, but they have a credible connection to real life. The Constable ("A Visitation by St. Teresa of Avila upon Constable Margaret Chase") and the Reverend ("Dead Teenagers") could just as easily have been men, but Vaughan deliberately reverses gender because he apparently wishes us to contemplate the possibility that there is no gender immunization to madness or violence. Women, like men, are capable of demented logic, paranoia, racism, and violence. There is no essentialist distinction that can be drawn between genders when it comes to monsters.
At the core of these monologues is the question of evil, but an evil that is made satirical rather than plainly and unequivocally repulsive. Susan Smith deflects attention away from the enormity of her crime by seeking to recapture the public's attention. She casts herself as a victim of circumstance ("Evil things happened to me"; "I was very emotionally distraught"; "It just came over me, the death pull"), and she cultivates a delusion of having been a good mother who kept her boys clean and fed. She proselytizes about making amends and she attacks the death penalty for being "a sinful waste of the human spirit." Vaughan captures her twisted mind, her sentimental religiosity, and her fear of how history will judge her-though he does commit an authorial intrusion by having her allude to Narrative Cognition Disorder, something that belongs more to an academic than to a monster.
What makes Vaughan's Susan Smith especially interesting is her method of gaining public attention. She aspires to celebrity by filming herself addressing high-profile television personalities such as Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Springer, and Barbara Walters. So, her monologues (in which she calls things "set-pieces") have a self-conscious theatricality as she attempts to make herself look "natural" for the camera. It isn't simply pity or understanding that she's after; she really wants her own private television show!
Susan Smith's warped chutzpah can be linked to Constable Chase's kooky views on genetics and race. This middle-aged policewoman delivers the funniest monologue in the collection, but her black comedy turns her into a sideshow rather than a pitiable creature. Marked by an unabashed tendency to use malapropisms ("annurisians" for "aneurysms"; "predispatation" for "pre-disposition") and to muddle her allusions (she thinks the Arabian Nights is the Kama Sutra), she is sometimes the equivalent of an Archie Bunker. Worse than her insulting denigration of her husband ("a losera fucking infidel..lump of carcass") are her twisted views of liberals, feminists, gays, vegetarians, Eastern religions, et cetera, and her loony belief in genetic determinism. She inculcates racism in her nine-year-old son while worrying irrationally about "that recessor gene, the Killer Gene." It is possible to enjoy her rather more than we should, and Vaughan doesn't end her monologue with a true sense of closure. He muddles the issue by anti-naturalism, interspersing emblems of St. Teresa of Avila in her monologue as a contrast between the saint's power of spiritual investigation and Chase's deep-seated emotionalism and paranoia. The trouble is that unless the audience is familiar with this saint's hagiography, the emblems will seem merely baffling or gratuitous. As it is, the monologue finally sinks like an unsuccessful souffl.
The third monologue ("Dead Teenagers") introduces us to a frustrated female cleric who is addicted to the spectacle of large funerals for murdered children. If Vaughan had reversed gender here, the Reverend would be seen, perhaps, simply as a reprehensible pedophile, but in the context developed by the playwright, this character is captured in all her anomalies. She is nervous, apologetic, plaintive, and morbid. She feels she has bravely faced down tragedy and crime, and found something gorgeous, sweet, harmonious, and lasting in her necrolatrous epiphanies. As with Susan Smith (who describes her children going to God "like birthday candles"), the Reverend has a sort of poetic realism-only hers is not pre-meditated or as self-serving as Susan Smith's is.
A wonderful supplement in this collection is the long interview conducted with the playwright by Kevin Connolly. It is a model of well-focussed intelligence, and it stands in direct contrast to the appallingly bad introduction by playwright Sonja Mills which, at its best, is a friend's piece of miscalculated puffery, and, at its worst (which is most of the time), a wretched example of demotic gossip and peer wanking.

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