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.