Theater review by Helen Shaw. 59E59 (see the Off-Off List). By Mark Rigney. Dir. Kristin McCarthy Parker. With Nick Abeel, Jonathan Dickson and Jenna Panther. 1hr 45mins. One intermission.
Much about Mark Rigney's dramatic comedy Bears feels on-the-cusp—even hopeful. A batch of budding talents are involved in director Kristin McCarthy Parker's production, all very intent on delivering heir story of zoo bears set loose after the American economy implodes. The setup has promise, and the method (actors playing chatty animals, without furry costumes) renders some intriguing results. If the scenario never quite turns into plot, if Rigney never quite manages to use his beastly characters to illuminate human behavior, the sins can seem forgivable.
Our ursine protagonists—young Timmy (Abeel), erudite Growl Bear (Dickson) and aggressive Susie (Panther)—need to make their way into the near-empty wilderness after collapse wipes out their caretakers. Old instincts tug at the two younger creatures, but a strange evolution has begun in elderly Growl Bear. Prompted by a lone radio broadcast, he learns human writing. And then Rigney runs plumb out of ideas. He retreats from his own fantastical proposals, the drama turns dull and recessive, and his world shrinks rather than expands.
The stakes seem sky-high: Growl Bear, his muzzle stained with garbage, may now be the last repository for human learning, and the professorial Dickson seems eager to play savior or monk—whatever the story will allow. (Rigney spends much of the second half worrying about whether Timmy and Growl Bear will stay friends.) The playwright retreats into a cage of his own devising, thinking small instead of letting his dramaturgy run wild. The bars go up in front of us, and we fidget as we realize: This writer can only hear the call of the zoo.—Helen Shaw