‘Seven Homeless Mammoths’ contains moments of excellence

For a local company to bring in a production from another city is a rarity. Todd &Bryan have done just that with The Theatre Wit of Chicago’s production of “Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England.”

Directed by Jeremy Wechsler, it’s well-paced and contains moments of excellence, though actors don’t hold for laughter.

The proposed closing of a small-town college’s natural history museum provides abundant comedic opportunities in Madeline George’s play. It also allows the central theme and message of the play to come across plainly. Perhaps the character Greer (Laura T. Fisher) puts it most succinctly when addressing her former lover, Dean Wreen (Penelope Walker), referring to the much younger love interest, Andromeda (Kristen Magee): “You are of age, she is of youth.”

Wondering why scenes exist when watching a production detracts from the overall experience. At two hours, 40 minutes (including intermission), that’s what hurts this play. Writers often are loathe to delete their words; they fall too much in love with them. In this case, George would enhance this play with some trimming.

The sections with Steve Herson (in multiple roles) don’t augment the story because much of the information is superfluous and revealed in subsequent scenes. With the exception of a scene with Walker, Herson portrays them with such similarity and over-reaching emoting it increases the sense they exist for the sole purpose of covering set changes.

The Art Square Theatre is used well, though two of the final scenes are viewed by the back rows only if one is dexterous enough. Joe Schermoly’s set is delectably done in shades of brown, with dressings and props spanning eras to further the tale. And there’s a changing diorama upstage providing more juxtaposition and comedy.

Magee plays modern flower-child Andromeda to great effect. Her wide-eyed energy never falters. Her starts, stalls, and double-takes are real and a joy to behold. She transitions to her understanding of the inevitable aging and changing of relationships throughout the course of the play with a gentle continuity which allows us to enjoy the ride.

Wrestling with the dilemma, Dean, though in favor of the closing, is compelled to confront her insecurities. She laments new generations taking over even amidst a relationship with a younger woman. Walker gives us a sometimes glowering, blustery Dean with great vocal acuity, but we don’t always feel the inner fight. There’s a disconnect that feels forced, particularly when she’s faced with the loss of Greer.

Susaan Jamshidi (Early Man 1) and Casey Searles (Early Man 2) bring the diorama scenes to perfect comedic life. They both are amazing in their mannequin-like stillness, with nary a single facial expression, which adds to the fun of their commentary delivered in modern-day speech. Their final scene brings the play full circle.

The real jewel in this production is Fisher. From the weariness of battling the Stage 4 cancer invading Greer’s body, to a new understanding of an ever-changing pop culture and the complexities of relationships, not a moment goes by that we don’t feel and understand her struggles. Or the resolution of acceptance. Fisher even manages to take a few old, worn-out physical gags and make them feel natural and new, as if she just discovered them for us — perfectly fitting for the subject at hand.

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