|Helen Vinten and Luke Murphy in FOSSILS|
Photo by Carol Rosegg
A handful of simple props, a few fish tanks, some electronic music equipment, and moody lighting (by Joe Price) serve as backdrops for a compelling hour of theatrical storytelling that is as fully dramatic, mysterious, and tender as you could ever hope to see, in Fossils, a charming gem of a play now in performance as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59 Theaters.
Fossils, ingeniously directed by Nel Crouch, is the work of the British theater company Bucket Club. It tells the story of three scientists, Vanessa (Helen Vincent) and her two assistants, Ph.D. candidates Dominic (Adam Farrell) and Myles (Luke Murphy). Vanessa is strictly business, as the trio focuses on their work studying "vertebrate adaptation to land through coelacanth whole-genome analysis." I know, just the stuff to get an audience's hearts pounding.
But wait. There's more.
You see, there is a significance to all of this. The coelacanth has been referred to as a "living fossil," long believed to be extinct -- until a fisherman actually caught one. What Vanessa is secretly drawn to is the lure of another possible living fossil, a creature said to inhabit a lake in Inverness, Scotland. You may have heard of it. People call it the Loch Ness Monster.
Vanessa is intrigued -- not so much because she is caught up in the tales of sightings -- but because her long-lost father, also a scientist, disappeared a decade earlier while looking for "Nessie." Eventually, she gives in to her own seemingly fossilized emotions by setting out to track down whatever happened to her father, and heads off to Loch Ness, with Dominic trailing along.
What happens during this search is truly what the play is about: Vanessa's unsettled longing for her father and her need to get on with her life, culminating in a reunion of sorts and a truly breathtaking encounter.
All of this is accompanied by some wonderful electronic music, singing, and performances on the violin and the harmonium, an organ-like keyboard instrument (credit David Ridley for the terrific original music and sound design).
The lovingly-told story is a beautiful blend of brains and heart. Without much more than some simple plastic toy dinosaurs (the sort of thing you can pick up at the souvenir shop of a natural history museum), the three very talented cast members bring everything to commanding life for a marvelous hour of theater.
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