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Fossils

More performance art than drama, this low-tech show uses gestures and sound effects to relate a laboratory scientist’s quest to find the Loch Ness Monster.

Helen Vinten and Luke Murphy in a scene from “Fossils” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

Imported from England as part of the Brits Off Broadway series at 59E59 Theater, Fossils is a loopy and quirky theater piece. More performance art than drama, it uses gestures, weird sounds and sound effects–not to mention choreography or movement and songs–to tell the story about a laboratory scientist’s quest to find the Loch Ness Monster. Vanessa, as she is named, is also looking for her father who abandoned her and her mother — when Vanessa was 16 years old — in search of the fabled creature himself.

Though the printed script, such as it is, is credited to Nel Crouch, she is listed in the program as only the director, and Fossils is rather “By” Bucket Club, described as an “associate company.” Such confusion is perpetrated throughout the production: it’s hard to say if, in the end of this extremely low-tech presentation, Vanessa has actually encountered the Monster–and/or her father–or not. Fossils is apparently more about what doesn’t happen than what does.

Vanessa’s principle companion in her search is Dominic, introduced as one of two PhD students she supervises, the other being Myles. All three are wearing white lab-coats when we first meet them. They also describe themselves, pretty much throughout the proceedings, making Fossils an extremely self-conscious enterprise.

Adam Farrell and Luke Murphy in a scene from “Fossils” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

The “low-tech” aspect of the performance is represented by silly squirt guns and blown soap bubbles standing in for storms or submersion in water. While telling us that the “weather conditions are moderate to poor” when Vanessa and Dominic are “walking along the shore of the loch for one hour and thirteen minutes,” Myles also spritzes them with a water pistol.

There are also, from the beginning, a lot of useless measurements being taken with liquids–with great seriousness–which, along with the actors’ white lab-coats, may infuse the production with a certain amount of gravitas–as if the whole thing should be taken seriously. But the overall tone or mood of the piece is sly cynicism–as if the characters were talking about themselves and each other with their tongues decidedly in their cheeks. Fossils also fills up its hour plus running-time with silly jokes, such as when the two students answer self-posed questions, such as, “What is the most famous kind of fish?” (The answer being “A star fish.”) Or “Which fish is the most valuable?” (“A goldfish.”) Hardy-har-har….

Vanessa’s anger over being abandoned by her father turns out to be a good old-fashioned matter of sibling rivalry. As she tells her brother Brian (Dominic stands-in for Brian), who accompanied their father when he went looking for the Loch Ness Monster: “He chose you and his monster over me and mum.” She has, obviously, never forgiven either of them.

Adam Farrell, Helen Vinten and Luke Murphy in a scene from “Fossils” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Vanessa also announces that she likes to “argue with creationists on internet forums,” followed by Myles saying, “When she saw something that made her blood run cold….” and Dominic’s adding, “Her breath catch in her throat”–once again, in a self-descriptive mode. And so it goes in a show that perpetrates more confusion than it means to.

One of the more inventive moments finds Dominic’s drumsticks becoming windshield wipers on an invisible car, when he accompanies Vanessa to a conference, after asking if he can tag along, when she actually pursues the monster to its Loch Ness habitat. And while Myles plays the violin–and Dominic an accordion-like instrument–the music at times evokes Phillip Glass and especially some refrains from Einstein on the Beach.

Rebecca Jane Wood receives credit for set and costume design and Joe Price for lighting. But apart from some clear plastic containers or aquariums stacked in the middle of the black-box stage  space — creating a kind of work table for the players — and some toy dinosaurs that are held up to represent other characters, there aren’t a lot of visual effects worthy of description. The somewhat more interesting — or at least unusual — original music and sound design are by David Ridley.

Though Helen Vinten works hard to evoke a Vanessa who’s both earnest and lost, and Adam Farrell and Luke Murphy are, respectively, a serious minded Dominic and Myles, there’s a juvenile quality to their efforts which is never surmounted. And as much as Fossils sets out to be new and novel in its story-telling methods, it’s hard, in the end, not to feel like it is exactly what its title suggests: a relic of itself or of what it meant to be.

Fossils (through May 14, 2017)

2017 Brits Off Broadway Festival

Bucket Club, in association with Farnham Maltings

59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org

Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission

David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (46 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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