Just who are the Formicans and why are
That's just the kind of questions playwright Constance
Congdon tries to answer in "Tales of the Lost Formicans," a bitingly
blithe apocalyptic vision of American suburban life, currently running at
the Matrix Theatre.
First of all, the Formicans are us — as seen by an
alien race in the not-too-distant future. It seems the aliens have found
certain artifacts from the 'burb culture and are trying to piece together
what life must have been like for them (us). It can only be presumed that
the culture has gone the way of all flesh.
In a clever play-within-a-play structure, the coterie
of aliens — designated by sunglasses and lab coats — re-enacts the life
habits of these creatures in short vignettes. The cast for this
documentary includes Cathy, a betrayed and embittered wife (Joan McMurtrey);
Eric, her foul-mouthed, narcissistic son (Joshua Goddard); Judy, her
love-starved, hometown friend (Lois Foraker); and Jim and Evelyn, her
Alzheimer's-touched father angry, frightened mother (Hal Bokar and K
If you go see this fascinating, deeply sardonic
production, you'll need to be armed with the definition of entropy.
Entropy is the general breakdown of a closed system — read here, the
disintegration of suburban life.
What causes entropy? Our transience as a culture, our
destruction of values with nothing to take their place, our careless
attitude toward family and home — which playwright Congdon seems to be
saying all participate in the cultural and personal entropy that leads to
apathy and, eventually, our own demise.
This idea is most clearly and startlingly portrayed by
Bokar, who offers an aching portrayal of the seeping out of the life
force. Once a builder of homes that would last, he's now a carpenter who
can't figure out which way to turn a screw to loosen or tighten it. It's a
touchingly gruff performance.
Callan follows suit, creating a cracking character
whose life has been etched in pain, terror and despair. Her character is
feeling death around her and so finds herself doing anything to make
herself feel alive. Callan reveals this panic with wide-eyed, furious
The rest of the cast is equally top-flight. McMurtrey
deftly walks between on-stage narrator and participant, and is especially
moving in her moments with Bokar. Don Schlossman, who is the human
that knows something alien is up, is a walking, shuddering ache of
loneliness and rejection.
The direction by Lee Shallot and Kristoffer Siegel-Tabori
is acute and seamless.
While Congdon doesn't really offer any answers to the
entropic questions, the play does provide some great laughs at our own
expense, and the hope that, in the midst of the breakdown, we may feel a
moment or two of peace.