UNO actors give solid dimensions to fragmented characters in Constance Congdon’s exploration of fractured inner space, Tales of the Lost Formicans.
With one exception, these characters seem more generic than well-developed, as if this play is less about them than it is about making statements. However Jerry looks interesting and special. Noah Diaz’s performance in that role has colorful, meaningful definition.
This 1989 play dwells on people of that time who live in generic suburbia, studied by visitors from outer space. Another play among many about a nuclear family about to implode. The premise does have plenty of comic possibilities, a few of which Congdon realizes but doesn’t develop or repeat. It looks as if her focus is on how such Americans are alienated from each other and have scant ideas about what they are doing. There are constant shifts of focus along with deliberately disjointed short scenes, as if anticipating the limits of modern short attention spans.
The story unfolds and refolds while the alien visitors mostly comment without trenchant analyses and rarely say anything that could be funny. They become a framework, not a focus. A missed opportunity, given the premise. Occasionally, though, they turn up looking and sounding goofily comic.
Cathy and her son Eric move back from New York to live with her parents Jim and Evelyn. Eric definitely doesn’t want to be there. Jim’s going through stages of Alzheimer’s and has comforting hallucinations. Neighbor Jerry, who lives alone, thrives on conspiracy theories. He’s abducted by aliens but, oddly, after returning, makes no such claim and appears to be unaltered. Eventually he and Cathy seem attracted to each other.
In Jerry, Congdon has come up with the one character who stands out with dimension. Certainly Diaz’s interpretation makes him so. Jerry’s conspiracy explanations come across as more innocent than aggressive while his vulnerability remains evident. Diaz makes him sweetly complex. And, symbolically, having him always wearing gloves, as if suggesting fear of human contact, director Ryan Hartigan adds to those dimensions.
Congdon’s other good inventions include Jim exploring beautiful moments in his isolated mental landscape. And she makes a good point with deliberately repeated, reverberant conversations about parent-child relationships.
Randy Breedlove never overdoes Jim, keeping him more real than a caricature. Bethany Bresnahan’s Cathy has substance, full of life and believability. And, as Eric, Enrique Madera makes clear the frustration of youthful angst.
Hartigan has done well in evoking these performances. And he’s come up with clever inventions to represent the travels and presence of the visitors from outer space. Moreover, Steven L. Williams’ set adds a fascination of its own, loaded with multiple meanings with its vast variety of stylized objects
Congdon’s other plays include Dog Opera,, Losing Father’s Body, Lips, The Automata Pietà and a new verse version of Molière’s The Misanthrope, She has also written a number of opera libretti and plays for the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis. No such info in the program book per usual. https://www.playscripts.com/playwrights/bios/682
These Earthlings, i.e., Formicans, may seem lost at first, but they may yet find their way.
Tales of the Lost Formicans unfolds through April at UNO Theatre, Weber Fine Arts Building, 6001 Dodge Street. Weds.-Sat. 7:30 pm. Tickets: $5- $16, UNO students: free. www.unomaha.edu/unotheatre