nytheatre.com review by Nat Cassidy
August 14, 2010
Every year, there's always at least one FringeNYC show that grabs me immediately based on some insane-sounding promotional synopsis that I've just got to see play out. This year, the first show that caught my eye purported to cover, among other things, "do-it yourself lobotomies," "copulating half-siblings," "suicide by plow," and best of all, alligators. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to see it.
Limelight Productions' presentation of Alligator Summer definitely makes good on its promises of the above-mentioned atrocities—and then some. As a fan of the outrageous, I had a blast. Each new scene carried with it the excitement of "What're they gonna do next?" Playwright Dylan Lamb has an excellent ear for dialogue and his script sparkles with wit. Under the solid direction of Robert Ribar, the seven-person ensemble works deliciously together. It's a young cast, but to a person they are able players and, despite the script's occasional predilection for spoof (with its latently homosexual narrator straight out of The Glass Menagerie and character names like Atticus Julep or Antebellum Gettysburg), there are moments of real, sometimes lovely connection.
However, the inherent problem with Alligator Summer is that, for all the attention paid creating truthful characters, the situation itself becomes a caricature about halfway through the show's 90 minute runtime. This might seem like an absurd criticism to have for a show about two families trapped in an attic by a massive gang of monster alligators, but in watching the production one can tell that Lamb is clearly interested in crafting legitimate interactions between his characters.
The sense I got was that Lamb wanted to tell a story of real people in an insane situation—it's an admirable goal and he comes close. What I kept wanting, though, was more of the pervading tension necessary to ground the exponentially outrageous plot points in reality. Unfortunately the overall stakes fall away the more focused the play becomes on upping the weirdness—which, frankly, is when we need the stakes the most.
We go with Lamb for much of the distance—we buy the initial premise of a town besieged by alligators, we buy the extramarital trysts on the roof and the masturbatorially obsessed child, we even buy the idea that the alligators only attack you if you show them fear. But other elements of the story seemed rushed or arbitrary. Sometimes characters are hushed for being loud enough to stir the alligators' interests—other times, people yell at length without any reproach or consequence. A bottle of generic poison sits next to a bottle of medicine (despite the fact that the rest of the belongings in the attic are Spartan), and when it's finally used, it's used in a jarringly unremarkable manner.
I longed for more of a sense of their desperation and cabin fever. It was there, but there's a cheery aloofness at times that belies (rather than complements) any atmosphere of stir-craziness. Far more attention is given to the heat than to the fact that these characters are trapped in an attic by giant hungry beasts and have no way of leaving or calling for help. I think the elements are all there—if Lamb just works on grounding his outrageous premise in a little more reality (or even integrates the Southern drama memory narrator trope he's already using just a little more to explain these lapses in logic or specificity), he'll have a rather remarkable piece on his hands.