Monsoon Season: Show Review by Jo Mispel

Phoenix, Arizona, a dusty desert city with a sometimes spectacular Monsoon season. A season that brings moist tropical air to the dry desert, creating dramatic, and potentially dangerous, weather conditions.  Monsoon Season is also the provocative title of the new production of Lizzie Vieh’s award-winning play, directed by Kristin McCarthy Parker and currently playing a limited run at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in the West Village.

Monsoon Season just finished a month-long run at the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival. Playwright Lizzie Vieh, also from Phoenix, where the play is set, originally wrote the piece as a solo act but developed it further into the two-act, companion piece it now is as part of All For One Theater’s Solo Collective series. Her chosen title helps set the scene in which we  become the intimate witnesses to the unraveling of two recently separated individuals. The coming monsoon will bring a change in barometric pressure, but will relief or devastating flooding be the end result?

Promoted as a deranged romantic comedy, I came to this show ready for a laugh. I was eager to have a giggle, no doubt at the expense of two hapless characters. I did not, however, expect to be so emotionally moved. Two consecutive monologues by struggling, fault ridden, human beings, both falling apart in the debris of their sundered marriage, each in their own way. Their cultural/social scaffolding offering no comfort or support.

We first meet Danny, the rejected, dejected, ex-husband of Julia and father of their young girl Sammy. Played with great empathy and physicality by Richard Thieriot, he is just hanging on, drifting. He starts getting in all the messy trouble that depression, low income, and desperation can attract, all the while trying to remain a decent, self-respecting, person. Not easy in a landscape dripping in alienation and disconnects. Valiantly trying to keep it together, in a temporary apartment over a car park looking out at a strip joint. There are constant insults to his being, like the circulating neon peaches on that stripclub sign, repeating over and over, inescapable intrusions in his lonely abode with no curtains.

He works days as a telesupport person, pushing out false cheeriness to strangers complaining of technical breakdowns. He supplements this with nighttime Uber driving, trying to connect with disinterested passengers. A depressing patchwork of gig economy, minimum pay, no support. Haunted by insomnia, he has become victim to micro blackouts, scary and debilitating.

Thieriot skillfully skips from one daily moment of quiet desperation to another, the stage lighting cleverly transporting us from one scene to another with a creative use of the simple props. It is somewhat comedic, as Danny bumbles through trying to keep his sense of humor and decency while negotiating banal daily arrows, all with his broken heart and his immense fear of losing his daughter. But it is also so well done it is heartbreaking. Especially when he visits his mom in hospital with dementia, who keeps insisting he is his brother, the rich one with a house on the beach in Miami. No one seems to even know or care who he is anymore. Even his daughter seems more attached to the new man in his ex-wife Julia’s life.

You-Shin Chen’s stage set simply but evocatively renders the limbo land mess of our characters. A dusty desert backdrop with neon outlined cacti, foregrounded by a cluster of boxes, packed, half-packed, in transit. A lava lamp peeking out and blobbing silently as we waited beforehand in the semi-dark. A pile of magazines, a dollhouse, a pile of clutter halfway somewhere, inert, in-between places.

When Danny finally leaves the stage, we can’t be sure where his disintegrating mindset is taking him, if he is about to do, or has already done, something sleep-deprived and desperate. One feels almost protective and thus reluctant, but oh so curious, to meet his ex, Julia. Played by the wonderful Therese Plaehn, she comes in brashly, a whirlwind of too much makeup and attitude. She immediately senses that she is up against this judgemental dislike, prejudice, but who cares she projects, her whole modus operandi at present is to break through into something new, something affirming, vital, like the young self she felt she was losing in her marriage with Danny. How is she doing this? Already on empty, she starts popping Adderall like candy, to keep up momentum. She even starts going out with her dealer. The dealer that makes the money that signals success and agency to Julia. She meets him via an old friend at the old pub she is still haunting, trying to revive nights of feeling alive, wanted, necessary. She admits to us that she wants to be someone, someone famous, someone known, making a mark. How? As a YouTuber, testing beauty products. Hanging on to youth. Sharing cosmetic secrets.

Danny and Julia’s daughter Sammy meanwhile is a ghost, spoken to, or of, only briefly and with guilt and concern. Lost in the miasma of immature development that is her broken parents.

The effect of these sequential monologues is very entertaining, in a brutal way. Both parties, grow more and more delusional. Is Julia really seeing a big black bird in the backyard? Who is out there? And what is Danny doing with those scissors? Oh, and surely Julia isn’t going to post that deranged drug-induced monologue on her YouTube channel?

What else is there?

The weather. The weather that nobody or body can deny. It’s going to blow in with heavy rains that will hopefully wash everything clean. Will it clarify the confusion, serious misdemeanors, horrifying situations that these unanchored characters have created? Could the weight of all this angst, and a possible crime, sink into the monsoonal floodwaters and break the tension?  Will the winds reveal what is underneath, and what is really worth hanging on to? Well, I will not give that bit away, having already said too much. Instead do yourself a favor and go witness a couple of talented actors and a great creative team bring Lizzie Vieh’s powerful short play to life.

Opened Sunday, October 27th at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place) for a limited engagement through November 17th   Tickets, priced at $25, are available at


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