Pterodactyls | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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PTERODACTYLS, Remains Theatre, at the Organic Theater. Nicky Silver's darkly surreal and dysfunctional 1993 comedy positively runs on rage. Its easy target is a defective family so mired in denial that, like the title creatures, they merit extinction; but it's all ferociously familiar. Silver pillages Albee, Orton, O'Neill, Ludlam, Wilder, Ordinary People, and Married...With Children to concoct a clan with no shared memories and inexhaustible self-hatred. The incestuous father loses the last of his wife's love when he's fired. She's overbearing and narcissistic, alcoholic and passive-aggressive, trying frantically to keep up appearances amid the moral rot and deaf to the pain around her. Her amnesiac daughter Emma is pregnant and suicidal, while Emma's naively bisexual fiance Tommy is forced to play the family maid. Most loathsome of all in this evil sitcom is son Todd. Carrying HIV, he's spent five promiscuous years before infecting Tommy, setting up Emma's suicide.

Fast-paced and sporadically witty, Pterodactyls soon succumbs to a mix of gratuitous meanness, cheap shots at blatant fools, and unearned anger. Sadly, the play assumes that the same toxic, life-hating bitterness it contains is also present in the audience: like a sniper picking his victims at random, we are to hate this broken family souls unseen. Yet, since the five fine actors go so willingly through their increasingly wacky-ugly paces in Neel Keller's whiplash staging, they generate a sympathy the play never intended. The rest is rant.

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