by Lori Goldstein
The world premiere of Brent Monahan’s Fable occured October 12th and 13th at Morrisville Presbyterian Church.
It was a staged reading with a cast of eight accomplished regional actors playing about 30 roles.
“It’s filled with zany characters, lots of fun props, costume changes galore. Between all the jokes and fun songs the audience finds out, ‘Oh, I’m learning something, this is actually serious underneath.’”
Fifteen years in the making, Fable is “edu-tainment, just as Aesop’s Fables are,” says Brent.
Inspired by a German novella, The Disciples at Saïs by Novalis, Fable is meant to entertain as well as teach a moral – how to deal with fears and live in hope.
“I took a young man out of an idyllic forest to go on a ‘buddy journey,’ like that of Shrek or Pippin, to find out that the supposed answers to beating fear and living in hope are not complete answers.”
Brent examines the hypocrisies of war, religion, and education as erroneous solutions for peace.
His buddy is his shadow, representing his fearful self; the shadow is female, “because we all have both female and male aspects in ourselves to a varying degree. Eventually the young man realizes that you need to develop your own courage, live in hope and treat people well.”
Brent’s goal for this staged reading is videography, capturing the sounds and visuals, putting Fable on YouTube to interest potential backers and regional theaters.
Under the mentorship of Broadway producer Dr. Lawrence Wilker of Upper Makefield, Brent aspires to see Fable off-Broadway.
One of its songs, Without Music, won the 2018 International Fresh Baked Musicals contest and was performed at the Brookside Theatre in Connecticut, with Wicked creator Stephen Schwartz in attendance.
Without Music is very simple, folk-like and tuneful.
Fable also contains seven choral numbers plus duets and solos.
Before Fable, Brent created the musical Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, staged in the Washington Crossing Open-Air Theater.
It took advantage of the forest that surrounded this natural amphitheater through which ran a brook with a bridge where Robin Hood could fight Little John.
He wrote it in six weeks in 1992 and won third place (up against Rent) in the 1995 Stanley National Drama awards.
Brent has an impressive resume as a professional actor at such venues as the McCarter Theater and as tenor-in-residence at Rutgers University from 1979 to 1983.
He coaches vocalists who have starred in Broadway productions as well as those who need to repair damaged vocal chords.
A Rutgers graduate, he earned his D.M.A. from Indiana University, retiring 10 years ago as a tenor.
Before interviewing Brent in his Yardley home, I got to know him by reading one of his 20 books, The Jekyl Island Club, in which a Southern sheriff and Civil War veteran – John Le Brun – solves a murder on that exclusive island off the coast of Brunswick, Georgia (coincidentally the site of the recently capsized Golden Ray).
What was the inspiration for the book?
Brent told me that on their way to a Disney World honeymoon, he and his bride saw a billboard for the Millionaires’ Village and explored what was by then a ghost town.
He set the mystery during the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s), basing the character of Le Brun, a chess-playing sleuth, on his father-in-law.
The Jekyl Island Club was the first of five John Le Brun novels, each set on a real island where an exclusive men’s club existed during this era.
Brent has conducted extensive research, visiting each island, reading biographies of the men who people his historical fiction (i.e., J.P. Morgan and Joseph Pulitzer), and the newspapers from that time.
I also read The Book of Common Dread, which Brent considers his favorite horror book.
That’s the genre which began his writing career. “I always read horror,” Brent said, “I don’t like terror books. Terror to me is what could really happen, people torturing other people, as in Silence of the Lambs or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I like monsters and aliens, but got started because an actor friend of mine had a great idea for a book, about the world’s deadliest snake. He said he wasn’t much of a writer so we teamed up and wrote Death Bite.”
Itwas made into the film Spasms with Peter Fonda and Oliver Reed.
His book The Bell Witch became the film An American Haunting, starring Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland.
The idea for The Book of Common Dread, about a vampire who lives in Princeton, NJ, began when his late friend Michael Schnessel (they both wrote for One Life to Live) said that you couldn’t write anything new about a vampire. “So that was a challenge, hurling a white glove in my face. I didn’t believe that anyone would want to live all day long shut up in a box to come out at night to suck blood from people. That ain’t my idea of living, so I recreated it,” with a priest who makes a Faustian deal around 1500 to stay alive.
Brent told me that when he was a boy his mother put a sign on his bedroom door that said Renaissance Man.
When you see Fable, you’ll witness the artistry of a creative mind constantly at work.
PHOTO CAP: Brent Monahan