Theatre of the Mind

Tales of the Lost Formicans

Written By Constance Congdon
Directed by Brett Maughan
Nicu’s Spoon ( )

Shetler Theater 54

244 West 54th St., 12th Floor

Equity approved showcase

Through April 15, 2007

Review by Deborah S. Greenhut


They say that ants can pull 50 times their weight, but the disabled humans do plenty of hauling as they seek their ideal forms in Constance Congdon’s poignant tale of aliens, Alzheimer’s and adolescence, produced by Nicu’s Spoon. Director Brett Maughan ensures that the audience enters the world of the play immediately in this compact black box theater by offering high production values and a scene already in progress.


The play introduces male nurse Jerry’s world (Michael Hartney) as an entree into the human hive. Soon, the Formicans arrive, bearing an exceptionally well-costumed (Rien Schlecht) resemblance to ants. Three aliens (Jovinna Chan, Russell Waldman, and Dirk Smile) and an additional mannequin come to terms with human experience while wrestling a chair around various human dilemmas experienced by the expertly played Alzheimer’s victim Jim (Brian Coffey) and his long-suffering, but compassionate, wife, Evelyn (Celia Bressak). Adding to the occasionally comic, yet deeply frustrating onset of the disorder is a visit from their divorced daughter, Cathy (Rebecca Challis), accompanied by her disabled Goth son, Eric (Nico Phillips). Cathy’s friend Judy (Lindsay Goranson) provides a naturalistic counterpart to the anxious clan of Jim.


The production’s technical design supports Congdon’s intention with many interesting visual and auditory moments. The set design incorporates light, sound, and heavy lifting pieces that suggest an ant farm populated by people. Thomas Cassetta’s sound direction is excellent; producer Stephanie Barton-Farcas can be complimented for ensuring that sounds always come from the correct objects. Lighting (Steven Wolf) includes an excellent palette of alien greens and blues, and the drama is heightened through effective light and shadow.


Audiences may respond slowly to Congdon’s deft humor, but the tragic pathos of the character’s struggle is easily available thanks to the excellent performances of Coffey, Phillips, and Hartney. At times, characters seem too focused on their own worlds -- their individual intentions can be seen a bit too well -- but strong direction by Maughan ultimately transcends these issues when the emotional payoff becomes necessary. The play is a wonderful metaphor for the function of theater. One could accomplish a great deal by sitting and listening. And the point of all the lifting of chairs? “Never force anything.” Congdon has lent an ear to Plato in this sequence of terse epitomes about finding one’s form: “All you have to do is gather it in.”


Box Score:

Writing: 3
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Sets: 2
Costumes: 3
Lighting/Sound: 3

Copyright 2006 Deborah S. Greenhut


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