Reviewed by Terry Morgan
The Commissary at The Culver Studios
Through Sept. 24
A frequent complaint heard over the years is that the film and TV industry doesn’t do anything to help support the L.A. theatre community. From personal experience, I can testify that this is true, although the reasons why remain mysterious. That said, Pop Up Theater, Inc. seems to have cracked the code, staging its current production of Nicky Silver’s Pterodactyls on the Culver Studios lot. Regrettably, the quality of the show is mixed, although it features some fine acting.
It would be fair to describe the Duncan family as messed up. Alcoholic mother Grace (Donna Goldfarb) is more concerned with appearances than reality (her response when her long-absent son returns and tells her he has AIDS: “We’ll have a buffet.”). Father Arthur (Skip Pipo) refuses to acknowledge that his son is an adult, and instead continually suggests that they go outside to play catch. Hypochondriac daughter Emma (Melina Chadbourne) is concerned that her fiancé Tommy (Ben Rawls) seems more interested in his new job as housemaid than in their upcoming wedding. And son Todd (Cambrian Thomas-Adams) is obsessed with digging up old bones in the backyard and building a monument to the past as the present falls apart.
Chadbourne is terrific as the neurasthenic Emma, demonstrating dramatic range and comedic chops as a traumatized young woman who wants desperately to escape her toxic family. Rawls is very funny as the eager-to-please Tommy, happily cleaning the house in his French maid’s outfit. Pipo does solid work as the detached Arthur, but doesn’t quite convince when his character takes a darker turn. On opening night, Goldfarb didn’t seem completely connected to her character during Act 1 but she effectively uncovered the damaged humanity in the role in Act 2. Finally, Thomas-Adams exudes an impressively menacing vibe as Todd, but is somewhat constrained by the one-note limitations of his character as written.
Director Melanie Weisner gets strong performances from her ensemble, but her staging and pacing fall short of the requirements of the play, which needs to be tighter and sharper to reach its full potential. Considering it’s been created in a studio commissary and isn’t credited to anybody in the program, the set — the interior of the Duncan home — is actually pretty good. Silver’s play may have been more startling when it was first produced in 1993; now it seems more familiar and a tad pretentious (we’re the dinosaurs heading to extinction – get it?) — although it still has enough acerbic humor to be entertaining.
The Commissary at the Culver Studios, 9336 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Sept. 24; pterodactyls.eventbrite.com; Running time: 2 hour and 5 minutes with an intermission.