Gregor Zubrowski, the megalomaniacal architect at the center of Amy Freed's The Monster-Builder, is as slick a villain as can be: Clad in a trim black suit, he's got a bald pate, severe goatee and round spectacles, and he delights in razing old buildings and erecting gleaming monstrosities in their place. All confident stride and rapacious gaze, he venerates Nietzsche and unleashes a cackle not heard since Dr. Evil cuddled with Mr. Bigglesworth. In case his power-hungry depravity weren't sufficiently clear, Freed briefly provides Gregor with an animal sidekick all his own—at one point, he pulls an eel from his briefcase and slinks around with the slippery fish while warbling operatically.
All of which is to say that this world-premiere production at Artists Rep, efficiently directed by Art Manke, doesnât traffic in nuance. On a stage of polished glass and white marble, Oregon Shakespeare Festival standby Michael Elich devours the role of Gregor, retaining just enough self-aware humor in his devilish asides to the audience.
Freedâs script, though, isnât nearly so focused. It borrows as many techniques as the busiest piece of postmodern architecture, attempting to balance satire, the occasional injection of melodrama and unabashed potty humor (âPut your hand on my organ,â Gregor growls to his protege after he plays a few bars of Bach). It might work were the arguments about architecture more coherent: Gregor calls himself âa visionary futurist,â yet Freed also suggests he has an affinity for Nazi architecture, which drew heavily on neoclassicism. For those who can swallow the references to Walter Gropius and Albert Speer, the mishmash is baffling, and for those without much knowledge of architecture, itâs just inside baseball. The performers are generally strong, even if Allison Tigard plays her idealistic architect with plodding premeditation, telegraphing each emotional shift far in advance. But even their best efforts canât save a shaky foundation.