nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
August 10, 2007
Animals plays like a series of Saturday Night Live skits with lively pop-rock punctuating the scene changes. Three performers, Ryan O'Nan (who is also the playwright, costume designer, and co-sound designer), Michael Hirstreet (co-sound designer), and Erin Mortensen play all of the main roles.
The piece takes a while to warm up. The first scene has waiters dressed with ears, tails, and snouts like pigs, and highlights an anguish that most artists can relate to, taking jobs they can't stand for survival. Although the premise is promising and the piece has some funny moments, it really doesn't go anywhere and sort of fizzles out. The next scene has a man and a woman chatting about men and comparing them to animals. It seems to ramble on with lines like "I never met a man who didn't enjoy the smell of his own bowels." Huh? The third scene is far more promising with three birds perched on a wire observing and commenting on life below them, then taking action in a way that only birds can do.
There is short scene between two flies in which the actors rush their lines in a manner that may befit a fly, but does not let this human hear what they are saying.
After intermission, things pick up considerably with a very funny story about the birth of the human race involving an alien (O'Nan) who is stranded on this planet and falls in love with a lady monkey. I loved the choice of giving the alien a British accent. Let's face it, Americans still do seem to equate the rounded "r" as a sign of intelligence and it makes it even more fun when this uptight alien falls for a monkey. After a courtship that involves a spirited moment of modern dance, the two have two children, Adam and Eve. The rest is history, and O'Nan has given us some riotous situations and dialogue along the way.
In the next scene we are treated to the beleaguered wife of Noah (Mortensen) as she signs in animals for the arc. Along come two gay unicorns ready for the "cruise," only to find that they are on the list of animals that cannot reproduce. One laugh follows another as we watch them return again and again in different disguises, trying to gain access. The final line of the unicorn scene seems like a great ending but instead we are given one more rather sad scene about cows that ends the play on what feels like a somber and out-of-place note.
Kevin Kittle's direction throughout is simple and clear. No one is credited with set or lighting design, which is minimal but effective. Creative use of costuming must be mentioned. O'Nan has managed to do some really delightful things with very little material and a heap of imagination. The result is a sharp visual humor that heightens every scene. All three actors are energetic and funny in their many roles, and if anyone out there is looking for a young comedy writer, O'Nan, whose writing can be quirky and unique, is someone to watch.