I was a teenage Noam Chomsky

Planet of the Mutagens

By Mary Gail
Directed by Douglas Green
Mutt Rep
120 28th St. (Ta Dah! Space)
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Planet of the Mutagens has a story with long enough legs for a full-length play, which makes it all the more a pity that it was not successfully adapted to that medium. Instead, it falls between the two stools of a stage play and a '50s sci-fi B-movie.

Fernelle (Wendy Leigh Flynn), a teenage linguistic whiz-kid, gets a mysterious job translating tapes provided by starchy researcher Louise Weaver (Patricia Cardello). The tapes run the gamut of obscure texts, translated into a smorgasbord of languages.

It turns out that Weaver has created two mutants by injecting patients of a terminal disease with a radical cure. (The details are lost in a sea of mumbo-jumbo.) The (taped) mutants are evolving into the next generation of humanity.

Most of the conflict turns on whether Weaver trusts Fernelle enough to let her work with the mutants and whether Fernelle's dad (Felix, played as a true '50s TV dad -- with an alcoholic spin -- by John Blaylock) will let her go with the mutants to an Antarctic lab where they will mutate into the next phase.

Flynn rose above the script as Fernelle, throwing off sparks from the multiple facets of a complex character, half genius and half recalcitrant teenager. Blaylock and Cardello remained bogged down as the adults. (Large blocks of dialog about the relationship between bad father and rebellious daughter could have been boiled down to the nugget of credibility, and logic, in the relationship of professor/alcoholic father to genius/truant daughter.) The mutants (Bruce Montgomery and Bianca Edmonds) were cute, although their constant motion became distracting. They really came into their own when the doctor threw a cloth over them, so they could make interesting and mysterious shapes out of the material without being constantly on display. Needless to say, they upstaged everyone else something wicked -- they should have been kept off stage when not in use.

The script suffers from long passages of circular argument over the issues, which are simply whether Fernelle will go with the mutants and whether Dad will be allowed near them, with or without a bottle. It turns out that the mutants' next transition ends in physical death, with Fernelle herself metamorphosing into a sideshow freak that speaks a new, universal language invented by the mutants and bequeathed to humanity.

It was good to see how far Mutt Rep has come since their last outing, Happy Birthday MF, in ambitiousness of both text and its production. A very serviceable, subtly painted, multilevel set (uncredited), with a complicated lighting plot, including a blue-and-yellow ground row below a white cyclorama (Sarah Sidman), suggested more than the script delivered.

An extra demerit goes to the director for turning the dials on all the characters up, mostly to full volume -- and, as Mutt Rep literary manager, for choosing the script. (Admittedly one, and from a playwright, that has received more than its share of laurels. Well, there's no accounting for taste, especially among the not-for-profit dramaturgical establishment.)

[Something about Mutt Rep -- and about Artistic Director Don Wilson Glenn's cheerful persistence in the face of adversity, which is the true face of Off-Off-Broadway -- keeps oobr coming back for more. It is to be hoped that Glenn and his company continue their struggle to mutate into the next phase. Their next production is Clifford's Voices, by Marc Kornblatt, scheduled for February 13, 1997. -- Ed.]

Box Score:
Writing 0
Directing 0
Acting 1
Set 2
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1996 Review by John Chatterton

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