Play Review: New City Stage Company’s Pterodactyls

Ensemble of Pterodactyls, photos by AnnieSuch

McLenigan and Kevin Meehan in Pterodactyls, photo by Annie Such

Homo Sapiens on the Road to Extinction
in New City Stage Company’s Pterodactyls

by Debra Miller
Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent

“I have AIDS.” So announces Todd Duncan, the prodigal son returned home to his Main Line family after a long absence, in New City Stage Company’s revival of Nicky Silver’s dark comedy Pterodactyls. But no one will listen.

Todd’s hysterical/amnesiac/hypochondriac sister Emma doesn’t remember him. His alcoholic, class-conscious mother Grace histrionically proclaims that he’s dying, then pours another drink and babbles incessantly about party-planning, shopping, the maid, and dinner. His workaholic, philandering father Arthur just wants to have a game of catch, and insists on calling him Buzz—Todd’s childhood nickname that he hated as much as he hated baseball.

It is obvious that “Buzz-Todd” (Tod means death in German) is a real buzz-kill for the already dysfunctional Duncan family, and his arrival sets them into a farcical tailspin of tragic proportions, in which Todd’s obsessions with unsafe sex and dinosaurs ultimately coalesce. In the end there is no happy escape through madness, drink, façades, or excess, only self-destruction and the sure extinction of a social class in denial.

This is a difficult play. What is funny in the first act turns deadly in the second. The damaged characters become increasingly angry, desperate, and poignant. It’s a production that requires compassionate direction and sensitive acting, that must take the audience on a journey from laughter to tears to social awareness. New City Stage delivers splendidly on all counts.

Director Brenna Geffers expertly displays her unique style of commanding focus and quirky edginess. The award-winning cast is equally masterful; Jered McLenigan as Todd, Cheryl Williams as Grace, and Bruce Graham as Arthur persuasively capture the emotional nuances and complex psychology of these very human characters, ranging from laughable to infuriating to heartbreaking. NCSC Artistic Director Ginger Dayle is hilarious as Emma; her scene of spontaneous deafness is one of the most comical, and memorable, of the show. And Kevin Meehan, as Emma’s ill-chosen, working-class, closeted fiancé Tommy, who is seduced and infected by Todd, proves his considerable talents in both comedy and tragedy as the anguished collateral damage of this decimated family.

The production’s outstanding acting and direction are enhanced by its impressive artistic team; especially noteworthy are Matt Sharp’s dramatic lighting and Andrew Beal’s large-scale sculpture of a dinosaur skeleton, the dominant symbol of the Duncans’ antiquated and unsustainable lifestyle.

Pterodactyls runs through March 27 on the Mainstage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. For more information and tickets ($18-22), call 215.563.7500, email, or visit the company’s website at A special St. Patty Soiree will be held on Thursday, March 17, with wine, beer, an Irish-inspired buffet, and “plenty o’ fun!”


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