Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Pterodactyls"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


by Nicky Silver
directed by Stephen Haley

Todd Duncan … Gregory Moss
Emma Duncan … Sarah Huling
Tommy McKorkle … Mike Di Loreto
Grace Duncan … Bonnie-Jean Wilbur
Arthur Duncan … Paul Wann

Dysfunctional families have long been the stuff of Western drama, dating back at least to the ancient Greeks; today’s misfits hit home once too often so that we prefer to laugh at them in a funhouse mirror than to cry over them, up close and personal, but I’ve seen enough American black comedies turn soft and forgiving before the final curtain. Nicky Silver’s PTERODACTYLS, however, is unapologetic in its attack on Home Sweet Home: his play recalls the first act of Thornton Wilder’s THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH with its father, mother, son, daughter, maid, dinosaur and Ice Age now turned topsy-turvy so that the saucy maid becomes the fiancé (in maid-drag) of the mentally-unstable daughter, the cynical son passes along the AIDS virus to the fiancé who has fallen in love with him, the mother is an alcoholic determined to keep up appearances at all costs, the father has feelings for his daughter that go beyond the fatherly and the dinosaur is a pile of dug-up bones that the son is reconstructing in the living room --- meanwhile, the world outside is growing colder…. As PTERODACTYLS unfolded, I wondered if Mr. Silver would be able to sustain his vision or else collapse amidst shards of dazzling glass but his writing stays hard and constant, throughout, especially when he shifts from comedy to tragedy: Mr. Silver first snaps away at his characters and then gnaws at their bones, not stopping until he gets down to the marrow --- paradoxically, the more Mr. Silver gnaws, the more coolly compassionate he becomes.

PTERODACTYLS is a Tribe production, currently playing at the Devanaughn Theatre. This two-year-old company’s mission is to create a supportive environment for all types of local Boston artists and encourage cross-collaborations --- here, they have scored a bull’s eye, all around. Director Stephen Haley is in sync with Mr. Silver’s apocalypse and has channeled it through his actors who serve up the comedy with breathtaking ease but are equally adept at spiraling down into the dark. Bonnie-Jean Wilbur and Sarah Huling are so well-detailed as mother and daughter that I can see them taking on Mr. Williams’ Amanda and Laura Wingfield in all seriousness (Ms. Huling becomes a lovely bonus in her final scene). Mike Di Loreto makes an endearing wind-up toy as the fiancé-turned-domestic, Paul Wann plays the father as a musty room that will end up being swept clean, and Gregory Moss binds them all together as the son dipped in his own acid and quite willing to share the results. Designer Stephen Haley has made the Devanaughn playing space handsome to behold and has constructed a convincing-enough dino-skeleton only a few feet from its audience. Since so many good, adventurous shows such as PTERODACTYLS have flourished within the Devanaughn’s brick walls, is it possible for a theatre to become its own rabbit’s foot?

"Pterodactyls" (8-24 July)
Devanaughn Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 510-4447

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide