TALES OF THE LOST FORMICANS (1989)
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REVIEW:

Daily News

A telling look at an alien culture - ours.
by Lawrence Enscoe

Just who are the Formicans and why are they lost?

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 Callan).

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 energy.

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.

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