Stella Adler Theatre



Denial is definitely not a river in Egypt in the Duncan household, a family that bleakly absurdist playwright Nicky Silver put through their paces with almost cruel delight in his 1993 masterpiece Pterodactyls, now lovingly revived by the ever-prolific Athena Theatre Company at the Stella Adler.

Although Pterodactyls takes place in a grandly appointed living room along the historically pish-tosh Main Line of Philadelphia and is set during the era in which the play first debuted, the spectre of the dinosaur isn’t far behind in either its own time zone or ours.

The bones of one of our gigantic reptilian predecessors that returning prodigal son Todd Duncan (Todd Kubrak) prophetically finds buried on the grounds of the family estate obviously parallels the impending fate our troubled species as we crash on into our own obsolescence at breakneck speed. “They raped the planet,” Todd offers with a kind of skewed devotion to those massive first marauding creatures of the earth, “but they cared for their young.”

As Todd arrives home after a long absence to inform his parents (Gillian Doyle and Christopher Bradley) he has AIDS (has, as opposed to dying from, he’s quick to correct), his wigged-out sister Emma (Athena’s co-founder Veronique Ory) is about to wed Tommy (Ryan Baylor), not much of a catch according to the social requirements of her designer-obsessed shopaholic mother, especially when the kid brags that along his career path he has “scratched and clawed” all the way from busboy to waiter.

Rather than trying to dissuade the certifiable Emma to abandon her plans, however, Grace Duncan instead offers Tommy a position she feels worthy of his skills: replacing her maid, whose sudden disappearance from her barking employ is not hard to imagine. Much to the horror of Grace’s husband Arthur, Tommy fits perfectly in his predecessor’s little black-and-white satin French maid outfit—and here this definitely signals out-fit—his scruffy patch of chest hair peeking curiously from above the uniform’s ruffled neckline. Worse yet, Tommy’s perfectly comfortable wearing it.

Under Patrick Varon’s sturdy direction, the classic-in-the-making Pterodactyls still has a lot going for it, this particular return to the crazy and incredibly dark Land of Silver made all the more relevant by exceptional performances all around, particularly Doyle’s wonderfully vapid mother and Ory’s perplexed innocent lost in a sea of modern dysfunction and avoidance—kinda like most of us these days in our country, a place where we’ve let a regime we know is lying brazenly about almost everything and shafting us all as it continues to make its murderous descent on the world, prevail despite the wishes of any American with a conscience left standing.


If nowhere earlier in his script, Silver’s point is made glaringly obvious in Pterodactyls’ last line, referring to the recovered dinosaur bones Todd gradually reassembles throughout the play in the corner of the family living room, long after his sister’s suicide, Tommy’s death from the bug Todd passed along to him, Arthur’s descent into an unemployed shell of his former stuffy businessman self, and Grace’s vacuous resilience to all pain as she continues to obsessively shop for Prada and come on to her gay son.

While ruminating on the mystery of what happened to the dinosaurs, Todd comes up with a scarily prophetic answer: “Maybe they just ran their course,” he suggests. “Maybe their end was just the order of things.”

Not only does that line clearly summarize the world of refutations oppressing and systematically destroying the Duncan household as envisioned by Nicky Silver in his vintage Pterodactyls, it eerily echoes the highly probable impending fate of our entire species if we don’t collectively attempt to beat extinction ourselves by bearing the responsibility to make some major changes—and purdy damned quick, too.

Pterodactyls plays through July 29 at the Stella Adler, 6773 Hollywood Bl., Hollywood; for tickets, call 818.754.1423.

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing.