Opening Nights: Pterodactyls

Watch a Philadelphia family disintegrate.

Opening Nights: Pterodactyls

Dysfunctional families are to theater what sugar is to dessert—the most commonly reliable ingredient. And while you might think we’d be sick of it by now, decent playwrights continue to proffer their uniquely enticing recipes of universal and specific familial misery.

Ironically, while working on this, the fledgling company’s second production, The Wrecking Crew suffered some domestic strife of its own, as the set designer departed shortly before curtain opening night. But despite missed sound cues, mystery noises, and odd moments when intended effects didn’t occur, the actors delivered an entertaining evening.

Nicky Silver’s absurdist 1993 tragicomedy deftly sketches the disintegration of Philadelphia’s Duncan family, an elite clan hobbled by extremely bad judgment, narcissism, and emotional deafness the way the dinosaurs were hobbled by a dust-filled atmosphere. Errant son Todd Duncan (John-Paul Wilson) has come home to the ancestral manse with AIDS. That sets off his memory-repressed, hypochondriac sister Emma (Colin Featherston-Wilkinson, in the role that made Hope Davis a star). Pretentious alcoholic/shopaholic mom Grace (Rebecca Parker-O’Neil) scrupulously examines Emma’s new fiancĂ©, Tommy (Ash Hyman), to confirm that he doesn’t wear jewelry (the reddest of red flags in her world), and reacts to Todd’s news with complete denial. Threadbare comedic fabric, but Silver’s quippy, weird dialogue (“facts run through me like Chinese food”) kept me hooked.

Director Tyrone Brown orchestrated some good five-way verbal crossfire, and evoked a bit of nuance from the generally high-pitched material and strident performances. As Todd’s father, Andrew Tribolini seems so effortlessly creepy you wonder whether he’s even going for creepy.

Over the course of the twisted intrigues and revelations, a giant dinosaur skeleton takes shape in the urbanely minimalist living room set: Todd brings in bones from the yard in a reconstruction that loosely parallels the dismantling of his family. Wilson’s Todd seems an alien truth-teller in a tribe that defends itself with moral deafness just as T-Rex did with teeth.

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