The current play of New City Stage raises a lot of questions about the ways in which we live. In Pterodactyls, playwright Nicky Silver presents us with a cast of characters, all of whom are missing some essential part of their whole self. Meet the Duncan clan:
Arthur, the patriarch, played by Bruce Graham, is a well-heeled banker, reveling in memories that are entirely of his own creation. It seems that he actually remembers very little of his family life. Grace, his wife, played brilliantly by Cheryl Williams, is an alcoholic Main Line matron, the kind so common to the Ladies’ Auxiliary or Women’s Club; Sondheim wrote “Ladies Who Lunch” about such women. And you used to see them, aging to extinction in places like The General Wayne Inn, now long-gone. Emma, the somewhat dim-witted daughter, played by Ginger Dayle, is about as clueless about the realities of her life as a person can be. Her brother, Todd, played by Jered McLenigan, is a seductively malevolent character who returns home with AIDS, constantly telling everyone, “I have no symptoms”. But he does have symptoms, if AIDS is meant as a metaphor. He carries the symptoms of the death of a certain kind of society, a kind of cancerous consumer culture; and as his one occupation is reconstructing the bones of a dinosaur he discovers buried beneath the back lawn of the family manse, the playwright seems to want us certain as to his symbolism. Tommy, the orphan boy Emma brings home and introduces as her fiance, is played with understated humor by Kevin Meehan, fresh from his triumphant one-man turn in Nocturne, by Adam Rapp at The Flashpoint Theatre. It seems that everyone wants a piece of this character – and he manages somehow to be everything to everyone…that is until he, too, is infected by the son’s AIDs and dies a rapid and horrible death. Emma and her unborn child are in turn infected by Tommy. The patriarch is unceremoniously removed from his high-profile position at the bank. The mother descends more deeply into her drunken stupor…and the lights go out for the Duncan family — as they are going out for our country, for our society and our civilization.
The play will keep you pondering, and the conclusions you are invited to draw are not pleasant ones. Silver, himself a Main Line native, seems to know first hand about the slow destruction of a diseased culture, and he writes without flinching about the ugliness of American society. Annie it ain’t. But it is a play well worth seeing.