|L-R: Adam Farrell, Helen Vinton, and Luke Murphy in FOSSILS. Photo by Carol Rosegg.|
Fossils, written and directed by Nel Crouch, is an extraordinary play – wonderfully entertaining, intellectually stimulating, brilliantly executed, theatrically ground-breaking, and as multi-layered as a geological excavation. Currently being staged at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan as part of the Brits Off Broadway program, Fossils is produced by Bucket Club and breaks through the fourth wall while employing a remarkable variety of props ranging from toy boats to toy dinosaurs, from soap bubbles to water glasses, from a violin to a squirt gun.
Vanessa (Helen Vinton) is a 28-year-old scientist, currently studying the coelacanth, an ancient fish thought to have been extinct prior to its discovery in the 1930s and now considered to be something of a “living fossil,” providing us with a glimpse of the first fish that walked on land. In her present position as a research fellow in evolutionary biology at the University of Kings Lynn, she also is supervising two PhD students, Dominic (Adam Farrell) and Myles (Luke Murphy). And she is hoping to publish enough –preferably in Nature, a highly regarded scientific journal – to propel her to her ultimate goal, that of a position as a tenured professor by the time she is 35.
In a way, the mythical Loch Ness Monster might seem to be something like the coelacanth – if it does exist, wouldn’t it be something of a “living fossil” itself? – but Vanessa will have none of it. When a local newspaper publishes a questionable photograph of the monster taken by one Brian Parker (Adam Farrell), Vanessa’s reaction – or over-reaction - is to tear the paper to shreds. She is, after all, a scientific skeptic par excellence who gets her rocks off by arguing with creationists but even so, why so angry and why her refusal to even discuss the issue with the mainstream press?
But when Nature calls, offering her an opportunity to write a feature on the subject for the journal, the cat is out of the bag (or the fish out of the tank?). Of course Vanessa accepts - her career is on the line - but the offer is a contingent one. It requires Vanessa’s accessing her father’s research on the subject for, as it turns out, he was once the foremost expert on the Loch Ness Monster himself and an associate of Brian Parker. Or at least he was before he abandoned both Vanessa and her mother 12 years ago.
Which means that Vanessa’s search for the Loch Ness Monster must become something of a search for her missing father as well. And an exploration of man’s ancestry, his need to return to his intrinsic nature, and his (or her) subsequent evolution.
Helen Vinton, Luke Murphy and Adam Farrell are all outstanding in their roles delivering theatrically ground-breaking performances as they navigate their way through their symbolic world (populated with fish tanks and toy dinosaurs) and communicate not only with one another but through the fourth wall. This is a production not to be missed.