Pterodactyls Evolve on Campus

Mollie Reilly

World-weary, exhausted and afflicted with AIDS, Todd Duncan (played by sophomore Dan Laurence) returns home after five years to an alcoholic mother, an adulterous father and a sister who does not recognize him. This dysfunctional environment provides the foregrounds for Pterodactyls, a highly entertaining and thought-provoking dark comedy directed by senior John Slefinger that delves into the complicated dynamics of the Duncan family.

Performed last Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the Ho Lecture Room, the two-act play featured five actors and a single backdrop. The talented cast of actors with Slefinger’s direction made the play powerful and memorable despite its physical limitations.

The 1993 script, written by Nicky Silver, deals with many controversial issues still relevant nearly fifteen years later: AIDS, homosexuality, alcoholism, abuse and suicide. However, Pterodactyls is not about any one of these issues. Rather, it is a study of how a family moves from comfortable wealth to emotional and financial poverty. Silver’s script uncovers many layers of humanity, using relationships to attempt to explain unanswerable questions.

Upon Todd’s return, his younger sister Emma, played by sophomore Josie Miller, has just announced her engagement to Tommy, played by first-year Conor Tucker, a romantic, orphaned waiter who dreams of directing films. Despite her disapproval of the hasty match, Mrs. Duncan, played by senior Dani Nolan, devotes herself, cocktail firmly in hand, to planning the perfect wedding for the emotionally disturbed daughter she never thought would walk down the aisle. Planning the nuptials offers her an escape from her issues with her own husband, Arthur, played by junior Ryan Dunbar, who is not so discreet about his trysts with other women, nor about his inappropriate affections for his daughter.

Miller and Tucker relish in their mismatched characters, displaying fantastic comedic ability. Miller fits into her role as a hypochondriac, semi-amnesiac flawlessly, evoking sympathy as the tragedy in her life is slowly unraveled.

Tucker, however, gets the most laughs, spending most of his time on-stage dressed in a French maid costume after Mrs. Duncan gives him a job as a housekeeper. As Tommy spends more and more time in a female role, his confusion about his own sexuality begins to emerge. These scenes of realization give Tucker a chance to show off his dramatic talents, and he seizes the opportunity.

Nolan and Dunbar shine as the estranged Duncans. Both are adept at exhibiting the underlying torment their characters face, and they are equally talented at delivering lines dripping with wit. Nolan is particularly outstanding. Her performance is completely natural, wholly embodying the character.

The true star of the show is Laurence. His portrayal of Todd is all at once hilarious, moving and heartbreaking, giving the play a focal point in the center of all the dysfunction and drama. Despite his illness and the decay of his family, he remains strong and healthy throughout the play, acting as a voice of reason among the ruins of the Duncans.

During the show, Todd puts together the pieces of a tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. The construction of this ancient creature juxtaposed with the destruction of the Duncan family is a powerful image, highlighting the tragic undertones of the play. It is touches like this, combined with a strong cast and dynamic direction, that make Pterodactyls one of the finest campus cultural events of the year.