by Jenny Hansell
In Silverthorne Theater Company‘s Tales of the Lost Formicans, a cheery group of aliens from the future explore and describe an odd life form, their artifacts, and their environment, a place we know as “the suburbs.” They explain oddities such as chairs and tables, social interactions and the means these creatures reproduce. It’s as arch and cute as it sounds: the actors playing the aliens wobble as they walk, blink oddly, and wear bright smocks and goggles as they comment on the action of the family they observe.
The same actors double as the family members: Cathy, recently left by her husband for a younger woman; Cathy’s angry teenage daughter Ericka; and her parents, Jim and Evelyn, with whom she’s come home to live while she figures out what to do next. Something is wrong with Jim, though: he’s forgetting things and very confused. Though the time is set in the present, nobody seems to understand that Jim, a pipefitter and builder who was once the rock of the family, has dementia. Instead they are frightened and frustrated as he loses more and more of himself.
Everyone has lost something–each character’s life has changed unalterably and beyond their power to fix. Ericka is a ball of rage at having been torn from her life in New York. As her husband comes unmoored, Evelyn’s world has turned upside down. And Cathy is caught in the middle between furious child and distraught parent, bolstered only by her equally-shaky friend Judy, and the tentative advances of the conspiracy-theorist crackpot next door. As the play goes on, the characters’ dreams become harder to separate from reality, and several characters have direct encounters with the aliens, or at least think they do.
As Cathy, Stephanie Carlson is excellent: careworn and plaintive, trying do right by everyone without the tools to help anyone, least of all herself. In the emotional peak of the play, she and Evelyn (Polly Pillsbury) shout at each other for what feels like two straight minutes – it’s a tour de force for both actors. The very fine Frank Aronson keeps Jim’s dignity intact even as his personality begins to disappear. Molly MacLeod, a 17 year old actress, more than keeps up with the adults on stage–though the bratty Ericka is fairly one-dimensional as written, MacLeod imbues her with depth and is also delightful as a bouncy alien.
It’s hard to say what the play adds up to: whether anyone is transformed by the end or whether the alien’s observations bring any true insight to the family or the plight of the rest of us Formicans. But the play is entertaining to watch and very well-done, easily living up to the high standards set by previous Silverthorne Theater productions.
Tales of the Lost Formicans
By Constance Congdon
Directed by Yagil Eliraz
April 25 26, 27, 27, May 2, 3 and 4
289 Main Street, Greenfield, MA
CATHY (nee McKissick) Stephanie Carlson*
ERICA (her daughter) Molly MacLeod
JIM McKISSICK Frank Aronson*
EVELYN McKISSICK Polly Pillsbury
JUDY (Cathy’s best friend) Val Vaile
JERRY Joseph Cardozo
ACTOR #7 Michael Marceline
Technical Director John Iverson; Stage Manager Abigail Douglas; Costume Design Rega-Jean Shaw-Pichette; Sound Design Mike Bullock; Make-up Design Anne Burton Costume assistant Piper Pichette; Producer Lucinda Kidder.