Sunday, September 11, 2005

Pterodactyls (convergence continuum)

‘PTERODACTYLS’--thought provoking excellence at convergence continuum

What happens when the prodigal son returns home to announce he has AIDS? In most families there would be concern, a pulling together, an attempt to work toward a change in the family system. This is definitely not what happens to the Duncan family in Nicky Silver’s ‘PTERODACTYLS,’ now on stage at convergence-continuum, Cleveland’s off-beat theatre.

The Duncans are THE poster people for the definition of “dysfunctional family.” This is a brood which thrives on alcoholism, incest, escapism, cruelty and denial. When you spend an evening with the Duncans, you should leave your logical ideas of the meaning of “healthy family” at the door.

The Duncans are quite a crew. There's Grace, the matriarch of the family who shops and drinks too much and hides from the authentic world by ignoring reality. There’s Arthur, the father who has paid too much attention to his daughter while ignoring his son, but still believes that he and the boy are close. He has a fantasy nick-name for him and an imagined story of how they used to play catch all the time. There’s Emma, the traumatized daughter who has blocked out the real world with selective amnesia. And, last but not least, there’s Todd, the son who escapes the family grasp through art, his study of anthropology and excessive sexual activity. The extended family includes Tommy, who is Emma’s clueless fiancé, who is unclear about his sexuality. Grace has enlisted Tommy to be the family’s servant. He cavorts around wearing a provocative maid’s outfit.

Believe me, this group is not the Cleavers of ‘LEAVE IT TO BEAVER’ fame. And, for sure, father does not know best.

As is often the case with the plays chosen by continuum’s Artistic Director Claude Simon, this is an absurdist black comedy. Silver uses Todd's building a sculpture of a Tyrannosaurs Rex as a representation of how the family and those who are like them live in emotional chaos. He purports that the extinction of the dinosaurs and the descent of this family, and by implication humanity in general, is eminent.
The concept is down-right scary.

The convergence-continuum production is well paced and finely conceived by Clyde Simon. Though there are some acting inconsistencies, the overall effect is on target.

Lauri Hammer is chilling as Grace. She has built a fantasy world by drowning herself in booze and escape. When her son announces he has AIDS, she puts all her efforts into a “welcome home” party for him. Hammer makes the character totally believable. She is one hell of a good drunk!

Wes Shofner’s development of Arthur, the father, is somewhat shallow. He stays on the surface of the character, often not traversing into the realm of being a real person. He sometimes emotes lines without much meaning.

Jovana Batkovic has some excellent moments as the demented Emma. Unfortunately, since she doesn’t texture the characterization, the empathy we might feel for Emma is missing. We often don’t know if the character is playing a game of amnesia or that is her reality. Her last speech, a pivotal clue as to what will happen, lacks clarity of purpose.

Brian Breth sparkles as Todd. Breth possesses a James Dean-like sensuality that perfectly fits the character. Breth grabs hold of the underlying motivations of the character and makes him real. He shows complete comfort in the scene where he deep kisses Tommy and uses the young man for not only Todd’s pleasure but to exert control and create chaos. His speech explaining to his father how he contacted AIDS is mesmerizing.

JdBowman is excellent as Tommy. He has several outstanding scenes, especially those he shares with Breth. The script clearly tells us of the abandonment and abuse the boy has been through so there is no wonder that he is desperate to be part of a family, any family, even this bizarre one. But, without Bowman’s fine-line portrayal, the reason for his eventual fall would not have been as effective.

Though the play seems cramped on the tiny Liminis stage, the closeness of audience to the action adds to our involvement in the happenings, especially when we are brought into the proceedings by cast members asking the audience questions and sharing intimacies with us.

Capsule Judgement: Anyone going to convergence-continuum must realize that this is a theatre that takes seriously its tradition of doing plays that most other theatres would not consider. ‘PTERODACTYLS’ continues that tradition. In the competent hands of the director and the cast, Nicky Silver’s very post-modern play is simultaneously funny, vicious, obscene, intellectually scary and very worth seeing!