Louise Saint-Claire, Asher Stoltz and Sarah Richard (background).
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a meaty play with gay themes on Joburg’s stages, and Pterodactyls, now on at Sandton’s Old Mutual Theatre on the Square, is a welcome and filling theatrical meal.
American playwright Nicky Silver’s piece is a dark comedy that becomes increasingly disturbing as it progresses. Directed by Greg Homann, Pterodactyls is set entirely in an upper-middle class family lounge and features a fascinating group of damaged characters.
There’s Emma Duncan, who’s a raging but witty alcoholic mother; Arthur, her workaholic middle-aged husband; Emma, the hypochondriac daughter who lacks long term memory and; Todd, the gay son who unexpectedly returns after years away from home. There’s also Emma’s fiancÃ©, Tommy, who is soon employed by the family in a most unusual role.
As the family plans a wedding, and its members tear apart one another’s lives and hypocrisy, the gulf between the image and the reality of the family widens alarmingly. Pterodactyls probes the way that denial and altered memory is used as a means to keep things together in the face of an untenable reality.
It flirts on the boundaries of clichÃ© with its archetypal soap-opera American family, but Silver’s mostly sharp writing keeps it all on the straight and narrow. It’s the kind of comedy that will appeal to those who like their humour biting and a little twisted.
The cast is generally remarkable. Unfortunately, they have to grapple with an American accent, which can become a distraction when it slips (and it does). However, barring an adaptation of the text to local circumstances, the Americanism is something that is part and parcel of the play.
Asher Stoltz (best known as the Single Ladies Vodacom commercial man) and Louise Saint-Claire excel as son and mother; not only holding their accents with aplomb but also demonstrating exceptional comedic timing and insight. It’s impressive that Stoltz, who only graduated from Wits in 2007, holds his own with the veteran Saint-Claire.
Intriguingly, the father and daughter characters are played by Saint-Claire’s real-life husband, Michael Richard, and daughter, Sarah Richard. It adds a unique element to the casting which gives the characters an additional edge.
Lyall Ramsden has perhaps the most difficult role in that his character is not a member of the family and is the least clearly defined or realistic of all. He does well, despite a shaky accent, and doesn’t look too shabby in a maid’s uniform.
In the second act, the comedy moves into the realm of absurdist theatre with ease. It’s a clever and smooth evolution that creeps up on the audience so that we have no problem accepting talking ghosts or unburied bodies in the backyard.
The concluding scene is Pterodactyls’ weakest part, thanks to its maudlin and self-indulgent dialogue, but this doesn’t diminish the play’s considerable impact. Nicky Silver has crafted a remarkable piece, which is brought to life by this production’s talented cast and crew with great style and class.
Pterodactyls is on at The Old Mutual Theatre on the Square in Sandton, until 29 August. Book at www.strictlytickets.com or www.theatreonthesquare.co.za.