Feed the Monster, a one-woman show with a live rock band that is written, performed and produced by Stephanie Ehrlick, played to a packed high-energy audience Wednesday night. Stephanie Ehrlich played the fictional character Rita Emerson a wannabe rock star who left her Jewish, suppressed, boring parents to pursue a rock career in the mid 60’s and make her mark. This story involves that journey from home to rock goddess and back to present day 1985. Overall, the play is well-crafted structurally. Certain themes or back stories are stated but don't hit you over the head. Early in the play it is revealed that Rita wasn’t encouraged creatively as a child, but, years later, when she returns to ailing parents, she realizes their incredible sacrifices. I loved the uplifting scene when Rita makes it her mission to encourage children, especially women, to be themselves in "I’m Gonna Shout," an original energetic song by Jim Keyes (composer and band member). The perfect ending for this show involves a call-back to an earlier inspiring scene where the traditional "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho" is celebrated. That song resonated in my head well after the show was over.
Ehrlich has a true rock-voice similar to that of Janis Joplin. It makes sense that she chose to create and portray this character, modeled loosely on types like Janis. Her band, two multi-talented musicians and composers, rocks just enough not to be intrusive. The music is a combination of original rock numbers and traditional rock numbers. Kia Rogers, as lighting designer, does a great job in creating a night club feel with Howard Rappaport, sound designer, supporting with appropriate reverb and echo effects. As a backdrop, a projector screen displays various top-notch graphic styled 60’s artwork by Gregory Nemec and Todd Spenceman, which relates to parts of the play.
Ehrlick as an actress is quite adept at comedy, specifically in playing the broader characters of her mother, her father, and her friends. She has some funny bits as a folk singer and one hysterical moment when she gets a job on a kids show doing vodka shots between singing lyrics. As a narrator, however, Ehrlick/Rita falls short. She doesn't have a compelling reason to tell and sustain a through line. I asked myself a couple times why she was even telling this story. Her vocal energy as Rita is low and her stories have an overlaying feeling of regret, as if she has given up. Rita also refers to herself as a 250 pound overweight woman during the span of this journey. Erlich, an ultra-attractive actress, doesn’t have a weight problem, so I kept waiting to hear the juicy tale of how she lost all that weight.
In Ehrlick’s bio, she expresses that after 20 years of working in the non-profit world, turning 40 with her life was passing before her eyes, she realized she needed to sing, write and perform. In my opinion that’s a story that is quite compelling. I suggest she write about that in her next show; I’d come to see it.