Friday, June 22, 2018
Stage

'Seven Homeless Mammoths' is a comedy of kinships

ST. PETERSBURG — There are no woolly mammoths in Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England, except for the silhouettes that flicker on walls in the American Stage production that opened last weekend. Instead, Madeleine George's comedy is populated by a more contemporary species, the staff and students of a liberal arts college.

Where the mammoths figure in is that they are the showpieces of Pratt Museum, a dowdy campus institution that trustees have decided to tear down. They want to make room for a posh dorm to attract more students prepared to take out backbreaking loans in order to keep the school afloat.

At the center of the matter is Cindy Wreen (Martha Wilkinson), dean of the college, once a high-minded academic and now a high-powered fundraiser. As she tries to negotiate the choppy waters between museum supporters and trustees, the dean also is juggling her relationships with her new girlfriend, a yoga instructor half her age named Andromeda (Stefanie Clouse), and her former longtime partner, Greer (Kim Crow), a philosophy professor with cancer.

Wreen insists that Greer move back in with her and Andromeda, whose enthusiasm for "alternative kinship structures" is a running joke. This arrangement sets up an amusing, if predictable, rivalry between Greer's hardnosed rationalism and the younger woman's new age spirituality, though ultimately they bond over reruns of Friends.

Seven Homeless Mammoths, smartly directed by Karla Hartley, gets a terrific performance from Wilkinson, who deftly treads the line between screwball comedy and passionate lesbian sexuality. Perpetually on the defensive about selling out scholarly ambition for administration, her Wreen is a wisecracking, brassy dame whose rants are hilarious. The Pratt's eccentric collection is "not a museum," she sputters, it's a "curio cabinet."

Andromeda is saddled with too many clunky speeches on feminism and other forays into political correctness, but Clouse prevails to create a sympathetic young woman in the end. Crow must be getting used to portraying cancer patients, having starred in Wit at American Stage last fall, and her musing on death as Greer and Andromeda cuddle on the sofa is very moving.

George grew up in Amherst, Mass., which is what amounts to ground zero for youth culture in the Northeast. The town and surrounding region are clogged with prestigious colleges such as Amherst, Williams, Mount Holyoke and Smith, and the playwright obviously knows the territory well. The perennial tension between town and gown is personified by the "gnomic" caretaker of the museum, drolly played by Brian Webb Russell, who functions as a kind of Greek chorus in reciting quirky items and letters to the editor in the local New Englander from his cluttered basement office.

The students are represented in a backhanded way by Early Man 1 (Vincent Stalba) and Early Man 2 (Jonelle Meyer), a pair of figures in animal skins in the museum's diorama. Their dialogue mainly consists of knuckleheaded fantasies of sex and drugs, and it's none too flattering as a commentary on the state of higher education, sounding like Beavis and Butthead.

George can be a longwinded writer, and in the Sunday matinee I saw, it took a while for her language to grab hold, but once the play gained momentum, it was a lot of fun, full of telling cultural touchstones, from the caretaker's ode on compost to a ring tone of Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air. It all takes place on Scott Cooper's ingenious set that encompasses the dean's kitchen, sunken living room and upper-level bedroom, the diorama and the caretaker's office.

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

Comments
On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

SENDUP: MUSICAL OF MUSICALSFive composers, a talented cast, choreography by Cheryl Lee and music directed by Michael Raabe — that’s Freefall Theatre’s recipe for a laugh-filled, season-ending summer musical, appropriately titled The Musical of Musica...
Published: 06/20/18
Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

TAMPA — The virtues of Dancing at Lughnasa, with which Jobsite Theater closes its season, are many. This drama by the celebrated Brian Friel opened in 1990 to much acclaim. It captures a family’s joys and sadnesses, and the quickness with which one s...
Published: 06/19/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/15/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/16/18
Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

GULFPORT — Brianna Melton is as serious a ballet student as they come.By her junior year at St. Petersburg High’s International Baccalaureate program, she had already spent four summers training with ballet companies across the country and had narrow...
Published: 06/14/18
What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

OPENING: DANCING AT LUGHNASAIrish playwright Brian Friel, who died in 2015 at 86, won’t be traveling anymore. But I’ll bet he packed a tidy suitcase. Dancing at Lughnasa, Jobsite Theater’s season closer, manages to address a lot of issues: race, reli...
Published: 06/13/18
Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall rolls out a new lineup of musicals for its 2018-19 season, a mix of comedy, favorite musicals and romance."For the last 35 years, Broadway has always been a staple at Ruth Eckerd Hall," chief executive officer Zev Buffman said in a p...
Published: 06/12/18
A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

Dr. Jeffrey Grove sat three-quarters of the way back from the stage at Radio City Music Hall, waiting for his moment. The Largo physician made the trip with family to New York for Sunday’s Tony Awards, where he hoped to see his investment in O...
Published: 06/11/18
Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

SIKESTON, Mo. — Neal Boyd, an opera singer who won America’s Got Talent and dabbled in Missouri politics, has died. Scott County Coroner Scott Amick says Boyd died around 6 p.m. Sunday at his mother’s house in Sikeston. He was 42. Amick says Boyd had...
Published: 06/11/18
Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Members of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s drama team stole the show at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards Sunday night.The performance brought the crowd— many of whom were wiping tears from their eyes— to its collective feet at the Radio City Music ...
Published: 06/11/18