Dysfunction Reigns Supreme In The Black Comedy “Pterodactyls” At St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Nathan Bush as Todd and Whit Reichert as Arthur in "Pterodactyls" at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

Nathan Bush as Todd and Whit Reichert as Arthur in “Pterodactyls” at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

The Duncan family of Main Line, Philadelphia are the antithesis of the Nelson family. Where Ozzie and Harriet speak volumes about the 1950’s lifestyle, these folks more closely resemble the Addams family. Even the daughters fiancé seems to fit right in as he eagerly accepts to become the household maid- complete with uniform of short black dress covered with a white apron and topped off with the maid’s hat. That the whole family accepts this as behavior as normal as strychnine pie lets you know how this whole thing is bound to end. The play is “Pterodactyls” and St. Louis Actors’ Studio has put together a cast that handles this bizarre plot just as matter-of-fact as if they were in an episode of the Nelson’s.

James Slover as Tom and Penny Kols as Grace in the STLAS production of "Pterodactyls." Photo: John Lamb

James Slover as Tom and Penny Kols as Grace in the STLAS production of “Pterodactyls.” Photo: John Lamb

The matriarch of the Duncan’s is Grace and Penny Kols delivers a spectacular performance as an indifferent, self-centered woman complete with ’80’s bouffant hairstyle and free-wheeling sexual undertones in almost everything she does. She has no trouble in expressing her opinion on everything including which child she prefers between her son and daughter. It’s hilarious and over the top in a way that makes it perfect for this play and this role. As her husband, veteran actor Whit Reichert delivers a droll and on the mark portrayal of a banker who has had it with the daily grind and- either intentionally or unintentionally- has been dismissed from his job and couldn’t be happier. He also isn’t shy about which offspring he prefers- even going so far as continually calling his son by the wrong name (perhaps a nickname he gave him as a child). He also has a few other eccentricities that come out as the play progresses and handles it with the usual “Whit” and charm that has made him a favorite on stage for years.

Nathan Bush is the son, Todd, who is the very essence of moody and, as the play opens, shows that his lecture on the origins of the earth are about as far off as his rather addled demeanor. Of course, he did forget his notes so he’s “winging” it. He eventually discovers some dinosaur bones buried in the front yard and decides to reconstruct them in the living room. Though it turns out to be a “baby tyrannosaurus,” it provides the impetus for comparing this dysfunctional family to the pterodactyls of the title as scavengers only looking out for themselves.

Betsy Bowman as Emma and James Slover as Tom in "Pterodactyls" at St. Louis Actor's Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Betsy Bowman as Emma and James Slover as Tom in “Pterodactyls” at St. Louis Actor’s Studio. Photo: John Lamb

As the daughter, Emma, Betsy Bowman is a delight as an insecure bundle of nerves who has definite problems relating with her family and her boyfriend. We get a taste of her philosophy early on when she claims that “facts run through her like Chinese food.” The play offers an unusual twist at the end that lets her find out that her insecurities are indeed based in truth. James Slover is wonderful as Emma’s fiancé, Tommy, who proves he’s just as nutty as the Duncan clan when he becomes their maid. Although showing a more centric outlook on life, he eventually has no trouble fitting right in with this family- again a plot twist that dumps even more dysfunction on this already out of whack household.

Director Milton Zoth has brought out every nuance of black humor that hatches out of Nicky Silver’s script. Having seen Mr. Silver’s “The Lyons” earlier this year, one has to wonder what kind of family this guy grew up in. With a splendid set designed by Patrick Huber and his equally deft lighting design, “Pterodactyls” jumps off the stage. Teresa Doggett’s costumes are perfect and the Robin Weatherall sound design complete the success.

It’s unusual, it’s funny, it’s depressing but always entertaining. Catch “Pterodactyls”- part of the St. Louis Actors’ Studio season of “Sins Of The Father” through November 24th. Give them a call at 314-458-2978 or visit at stlas.org for tickets or more information.

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