By Samuel L. Leiter
Did dinosaurs and humans coexist? I always thought not but an online search suggests alternative opinions. At any rate, they certainly do in Alexander V. Thompson’s bizarre comedy, Pete Rex, performed by the Dreamscape Theatre. Actually, for all the play’s insistence on their reality, you gradually come to realize that the “monsters” here are metaphors, psychological projections of the troubled, grungy, feckless Pete (Greg Carere), who has the attributes of a modern caveman.
Following a video projection prologue of a primitive man fighting a dinosaur, we find ourselves staring at a cruddy, unkempt man-cave (designed by Caitlin Cisek, who also did the costumes). It’s so close to the audience in 59E59’s tiny Theater C you’ll feel you require hand sanitizer and a Lysol spritz just for being there. This is Pete’s man-cave, where his gaming addiction is exemplified by the outdated “Madden ‘07” video football game he plays every Tuesday with his childhood friend Bo (Simon Winheld). Bo disguises his own joblessness and computer obsessions by claiming to be an “independent web designer.”
Pete also used to play “Madden” with Julie (Rose Sowa), the pretty, 33-year-old ex for whom he’s carrying a heavy torch. She, though, has finally decided to leave not only this pathologically indecisive loser, but their depressingly depressed town of West Kensington, PA, near Pittsburgh (a Steeler poster has a dominant position): she’s off to get a degree at NYU, implying that, unlike Pete, she’s taking charge of her life.
Pete is devastated by this as well as by his jealousy over the frustrated Julie’s recently having kissed Bo, who loves her. But Pete’s incapable of doing anything serious about it other than to recede into his X-Box fantasies, where he constantly relies on his playbook of winning by using a “tight end leak” (one of several football terms that could use a glossary.)
Suddenly, Julie disrupts his gaming by bursting in to claim that the town is being overrun by dinosaurs, no explanations offered. It takes the distressingly dim Pete eons to believe her, even after seeing a TV newscast. However, since Pete has always been fascinated by dinosaurs, despite never going beyond an associate’s degree in biology, we get lots of paleontological factoids. Cue the references to Jurassic Park and Dr. Adam Grant.
Before Act One of the hour and 45 minute play is over, the giant predators outside make their presence known via shadows created by lighting designer Remy M. Leelike on the closed shades, and the thumping conjured up by sound designer Megan Culley. You can almost hear those overgrown lizards growling “Feed me!,” which, in fact, is exactly what Pete does with his best bud Bo.
For all its weirdness, Act One is relatively straightforward, like a cheesy C-rated horror movie. Act Two, however, goes for the symbolic gusto with its introduction of a huge egg that’s been incubating under the couch for months and whose occupant now cracks the shell to emerge as a Tyrannosaurus rex called Nero rex.
He’s played by the same actor, Simon Winheld, who portrayed the recently devoured Bo, as a British-accented reptile, with a smarmy, wiseacre attitude half-Eddie Izzard (as my plus-one suggested), half Russell Brand. Resembling a refugee from The Skin of Our Teeth, he has claw-gloved hands protruding from a leather vest; a thorny crown; thick, knee-high boots, and a lengthy tail.
Both threatening and friendly, Nero engages Pete in a game of Trivial Pursuit, his goal not so much to eat but to “consume” his partner. Slowly, if foggily, we see that Nero is a projection of Pete’s toy T-rex, which Pete, as a child, considered his protector against his ever-present fears. Nero also does verbal battle with the defiant Julie over her alleged betrayal.
It’s not long before the play starts to have the feel of a strained exercise in playwright Thompson’s working out his own issues through the use of allegory. Happily, Pete eventually chooses to change the playbook of his life.
Pete Rex, which, under Brad Raimondo’s direction, uses several clumsily staged flashbacks to help focus its awkward narrative, is best when capturing the essence of innocuous bro talk; it’s not enough, however, to make the play funny or likable enough.
The actors show talent but there’s little they can do to help us appreciate the play’s differing levels of satire and reality. The situation is so exaggerated, the characters so unpleasant (especially the mush-mouthed, irritatingly self-pitying Pete), the setting so unsavory, and the humor so sophomoric, one spends more time wondering what Thompson is getting at than enjoying what he’s wrought.
Is there a Dr. Adam Grant in the house?
Photos: Hugh Mackey
59E59 Theaters/Theater C, NYC
Through March 3