He's not the most reliable authority. But in the world of Pterodactyls, nothing is reliablenot society, not family, not common sense. Nicky Silver's 1993 comedy skewers some familiar targets but does it with a delightful sense of the ridiculous. It's receiving an intelligent and enjoyable revival by New City Stage Company.
Playwright Silver is a Philadelphia native, and he set his play on the Main Line, but these suburbs bear only a superficial resemblance to the ones in Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story. The Duncan family leads a comfortable upper middle class life, but almost every member of the family is in denial. Mother Grace is an alcoholic, but insists she's merely "naturally gregarious." Father Arthur is a philanderer who has no idea how to relate to his children. Sister Emma has no memory of anything, not even her brother's face or her fiancé's name; "Facts run through me like Chinese food," she says. Brother Todd is the only one willing to confront reality, which he does by returning home after five years to announce he has AIDS. But he's sarcastic, full of rage, and has no moral compass; he's not above seducing his sister's fiancé for kicks. And then there's Tommy, the fiancé, who constantly tries to turn the conversation toward art films he's obsessed with. Grace offers Tommy a job as the family maid; he dons a French maid's uniform, then complains that his needs are not taken seriously. Meanwhile, Todd has dug up some dinosaur bones in the backyard, and uses them to construct a skeleton in the living room. Who will survive longer and leave a more lasting legacythe pterodactyls, or the Duncans?
Silver's comedy often seems on the verge of going over the edge, but in director Brenna Geffers' well-paced production, it never seems like outrageousness for its own sake. When the play's mood changes from comedy to tragedy and back, everything adjusts naturally and smoothly. There are also some spot-on comic performances, especially from Cheryl Williams, who finds the heart within Grace's cartoonish exterior, and Jered McLenigan, who makes Todd a sympathetic wise guy. Bruce Graham is bombastic as the father, Ginger Dayle is nicely oblivious as the sister, and Kevin Meehan's Tommy moves determinedly from one deadpan extreme to another.
Nearly two decades after its premiere, Pterodactyls' observations about the breakdown of the American family and the American dream are nothing new. But New City's lively, committed production revels in the play's absurdities and makes them all seem fresh.
Pterodactyls runs through March 27, 2011, and is presented by New City Stage Company at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Ticket prices range from $20 to $24, with discounts available for students and seniors, and may be purchased by calling the box office at 215-563-7500, online at www.newcitystage.org, or in person at the box office.