I had the great privilege of seeing the preview of “Cookie and the Monster” last night at Theater of Note as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The show is a work of profoundly personal sharing and vulnerable storytelling from star and lead writer Jaime Andrews. Although a piece of this nature could easily feel like a vanity project or little else beyond a personal catharsis, Andrews’ writing and performance elevate the piece to being a genuinely engrossing and captivating work of art. Although much of Andrews’ recent stage work has veered more toward broad comedy, here she displays an earnest sensitivity that makes for a uniquely moving performance around which to craft her show. While I was worried from the outset as to whether or not I would buy into Andrews as a grown woman playing first a child and then embodying her character’s transition into adulthood, she knew every nuance to hit at every story beat to make the character’s evolution as seamless and believable as possible. Her on-stage persona was so embracing and inviting that I would have happily followed her character and story anywhere.
Throughout the show’s economic runtime (I think about seventy-five minutes, but I wasn’t counting), Andrews masterfully engaged her audience through her character and her text in such a manner that every trial and tribulation Cookie felt during her journey hit viscerally. As excellent as Andrews is as Cookie, the show wouldn’t work if not for having a compelling Monster. In his portrayal of the Monster, Scott Leggett begins with his signature larger-than-life stage persona, but during the course of the show he finds a dimension and humanity in the character that makes the Monster a terrifying antagonist and a formidable demon for Cookie to wrestle.
Though there’s not a weak member of the ensemble, special recognition is due to Guy Picot who despite never appearing on-stage, creates and meaningful and memorable character as what might be best thought of as Cookie’s Jiminy Cricket. Theatrical chameleon KJ Middlebrooks is always a welcome on-stage presence, and his superlative comedic chops are on display here in full force as Cookie’s schoolteacher. The surprise ensemble MVP of the show is Perry Daniel as Cookie’s Mom. Her emotional arc builds through the show like a slow burn. Daniel guides the audience through her character’s journey and her relationship with Cookie so thoughtfully and subtly that it almost comes out of nowhere when her characters provides the show’s biggest emotional punch. Though in hindsight, it was that well-planned rollercoaster that Andrews and Daniel were taking the audience on all along.
A friend once told me, “Everyone has a story. And everyone’s stories are interesting.” Andrews’ story is equal parts tragic, triumphant, and compelling. She’s proven a remarkable storyteller both on the page and on stage. I sincerely hope this beautiful show gets the post-Fringe life that it deserves. Here’s hoping the rest of the run will be greeted with houses that were as full and as enthusiastic as the audience on preview night.