Review – Back Stage West – Pterodactyls

July 18, 2007
By Les Spindle
Nicky Silver’s off-kilter tragicomedy is about an upper-crust family’s dysfunctions of apocalyptic proportions; the script suggests that unless we find ways to adapt in an increasingly complex world, our species could go the way of the dinosaur. To spin his bizarre tale, the playwright has drawn from a cornucopia of sources — a little Eug?ne Ionesco here, a touch of Joe Orton there, a flash of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, and, most strongly, echoes of Edward Albee’s The American Dream. Yet, Silver isn’t so much a dramaturgic larcenist as he is a shrewd craftsman who stirs up his pot with a lot of time-proven dramatic devices to create a highly original stew. Director Patrick Varon pulls off a generally fine rendition of this challenging piece.

Each member of this grotesque clan — despite the Ozzie and Harriet fa?ade — has loose screws. Patriarch Arthur (Christopher Bradley) is prone to adultery and incest. His wife, Grace (Gillian Doyle), is a lush who worries more about social proprieties than about dealing with her children’s personal crises. Daughter Emma (Veronique Ory) suffers from amnesia and panic attacks. Prodigal son Todd (Todd Kubrak) returns after years of separation, confessing that he’s a sex addict afflicted with AIDS. The odd man out — literally — is Emma’s sexually confused fianc?, Tommy (Ryan Baylor), the family servant, who wears a French maid’s outfit and lusts after Todd.

Silver’s self-absorbed characters talk at — rather than with — one another, leading to a lot of non sequiturs, driving home the point of a noncommunicative family. Varon could better modulate these exchanges, as they sometimes fly by too quickly for us to absorb needed information. The playwright’s themes become clearer when the zany tone shifts to stark tragedy. The finest work comes from Doyle, whose basket-case matriarch feels like a cross between Katherine Helmond in Soap and Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. Kubrak excels as the loony artist turned amateur archaeologist, as does Ory as the seriocomic sad sack. Baylor is a hoot as the cross-dressing groom-to-be. Those with an appetite for nihilistic farce will enjoy this gleefully acidic satire.