REVIEW: NANCY STOHLMAN’S “THE MONSTER OPERA” IS GOOD (or the story of my ruthless ascent to the center of Nancy’s exclusive inner circle)

Nancy Stohlman, author of Searching for Suzie, lead singer of 80’s lounge metal cover band Kinky Mink, and mastermind behind the F-Bomb Flash Fiction Reading Series, will be putting on her new operanovel The Monster Opera 7pm tonight at the Mercury Café (2199 California St, Denver, tickets $12 at the door) with a cast of the area’s finest artists and performers… including me!  It is the culmination of years of hard work, faith, and perseverance by me to finally crack Nancy’s prestigious Inner Circle.

When I first met Nancy four years ago she had just released Searching for Suzie from Monkey Puzzle Press and she completely terrified me.  She was older and beautiful and from Denver.  She was self-planning a nationwide tour for her book and word had it she may or may not have been a stripper once.  She was also known to collect the best local talent to collaborate on an insane and endless series of creative projects.  I was doing good work myself at the time, Monkey Puzzle had just published my book Taxis & Shit, but still I looked at Nancy Stohlman and thought I could never hang with the likes of her.

It was my good poet friend Get in The Car, Helen who first broke thru to Nancy, cuz he’s one charming fucker when he wants to be.  He got our 1980’s popsong poetry tribute band Girls Just Wanna Have Us a gig at one of her events.

“What kind of event?” I asked GITCH.

“It’s an opera,” he said.  “She wrote it herself.”

“What?! what kind of person can possibly write an opera?”

“Nancy can.  She’s the most creative person we know.”

“Jesus, what are we supposed to do for this?”

“We’re going to play 80’s songs during the cocktail hour.”

“I don’t even know what a cocktail hour is.”

“It’s something classy.  Like Nancy.  We’ll have to wear suits for it.”

“But I don’t have a suit.”

“Get one.”

The cocktail hour was the time when people mingled before Nancy and her chosen people performed the first half of what was to become The Monster Opera.  And that cocktail hour later became known as Girls Just Wanna Have Us’s famous “Coked Up Show.”  I wore a brand new suit and for personal reasons did a shitload of blow before we went on.  It made me hit all my high notes with ease, but it also made me want to sonically pulverize the audience even tho they were just trying to make small talk over hors d’oeuvres.  Phil Collins’s “Against All Odds” never sounded so… well, probably so right on.  But anyway we were a meaningless sideshow compared to the opera, which had performers who actually knew how to sing in the style of opera and with great skill.  I didn’t think you could actually know these kinds of people, I thought they only existed in Italy or the 1800’s, but Nancy actually knew them personally.  I was in awe and after the show I went up to congratulate her and the only thing that came out of my mouth was “ack, EEH! (teeth grind).”

But I was intrigued and determined at all costs to become a part of Nancy’s close collection of super-artist allies.  I struck at the first opportunity to come up.  Nancy’s band Kinky Mink got a gig opening for a viewing of the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and they desperately needed someone to impersonate Hunter S Thompson.  I volunteered and I got a fishing hat and cigarette holder and dark sunglasses and made sure I was well practiced at Hunter’s voice and mannerisms.  My sunglasses were so dark for that performance that I couldn’t see a thing and fell right off the stage into a deep pit.  I was severely bruised and the fall bloodstained my Hawaiian shirt but I forced myself to continue on and take the stage with Nancy and back her up by chanting the chorus of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” in gonzo style.  After that I proved that at least I would overcome physical pain to perform with her and she liked that and other gigs followed.

Singing Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” at the piano store.  Laying down doo-wop backup vocals in the studio.  Hosting an F-Bomb reading.  Skinny Dipping in Nancy’s pool.  Doing lots and lots of Fireball shots.  Then finally came the day when Nancy sent me this message.

“I have a part for you in the new full length performance of The Monster Opera.  It’s The Critic.  You’ll have your own aria.”

“Ye-es!” I said.  I had done it!

The Monster Opera is an opera about monsters.  Sometimes a writer gets a strange urge to fuse together multiple and contradicting influences.  You become a mad scientist and seclude yourself in your underground laboratory for weeks until you emerge again with what can only be described as A MONSTER.

Nancy combines the head of a novel and the body of an opera with the impatiently erect and throbbing penis of flash fiction to form a creature so bizarre and hideous you cannot look away.  You can read it in bookform and one page will have sentences and paragraphs like a typical work of prose but then suddenly the next will have honest-to-god sheet music.  If you know how to read it you could start singing a song to yourself right then!  It’s flash enough that you could read the entire thing in one sitting in your own privacy, but you could also see it performed by real live human beings on a stage!

The story is about a Nancy-like character named Ursula who is desperate to come up with new creative material and goes to Mexico City to find two aging opera stars, obtain their stories, and write about them.  As we can all relate to, artistic expression has turned them into monsters, and by writing about them Ursula turns into a monster, and by writing about Ursula Nancy became a monster and by writing about Nancy I’m turning into a monster right now myself! HOWOOOOOO!  It’s fascinating literary journey where characters get more than they bargained for and things spin out of control and chaos reigns and hilarity ensues!  It’s just so full of spiders and maids and guns!

The Monster Opera is good.  And the performance of it tonight will be good too.  I know because I’ve seen a special secret advanced showing called rehearsals.  And I’m not surprised it’s good because Nancy only works with The Best.

Nick Busheff (keyboardist for Kinky Mink) composed the music for the whole thing and he will have the assistance of Rory Reagan (drummer for Kinky Mink) for percussion and quirky sound effects.  Have you ever tried to write one song that was good?  Well Nick has written like an hour and twenty minutes of good songs like it wasn’t shit.  And they’re ALL catchy.  I’m getting these things stuck in my head round the clock, and I’m not complaining.

And then there’s Erik Wilkins who plays former opera star Libretto Santiago.  Erik is a lovable giant with years of theatre experience who sings with a booming and powerful pitch-perfect voice. He’s a good dude too.  One drunken night Get in The Car, Helen promised to go to Del Taco with me but passed out before we had the chance and Wilkins came in and heroically saved the day and took me thru the drive-thru.  I also saw him wear a pink tutu into a redneck bar once and survive.

And also Marta Burton who plays Libretto’s wife and former opera star Magdalena Basco.  Marta is a foxy redhead milf with spot-on vibrato-y opera voice, who can jump between deepest darkest sadness to delightful comedic farce in just one line.  I have not hung out with her much.  One time she gave me almonds at a swimming pool, but I’m fully expecting her to go party-crazy after the show tonight.

The rest of the cast, Toby Smith, Scott Ryplewski, Dee Galloway, Mayra Walters, and Van Yoho, all excel at their parts.  And Nancy Stohlman is at the center of it all, writing, directing and starring with her usual relentless charisma.

And then there’s me and I am so awesome in this thing!  I worked hard for a long time to be part of such an ensemble and now that I am I finally feel WHOLE and I realize every second of the long journey was worth it.

Come see The Monster Opera 7pm tonight at The Mercury Café.  It will entertain you and make you think and laugh and cry like everything other thing you’ve liked.  And maybe it could be your first step to breaking thru to Nancy’s Inner Circle.

– jonathan montgomery