By Crystal Hayduk
The “Lovers of Valdaro,” whose 5,000-year-old bones were discovered in Italy in 2007, are a central and recurring image in the world premiere by Matt Letscher currently playing at the Purple Rose Theatre Company (PRTC) as part of its 25th anniversary season.
“Gaps in the Fossil Record” is a provocative examination of life choices that separate humans from other species that share their DNA.
Richard McDonald (Mark Colson) opens the show with a Paleontology 101 welcome lecture. His professor persona is so compelling that the audience becomes his class as they respond to his suggestions. He explains the purpose for the science, while admitting the existence of the mystery in the knowledge gaps.
When Jane, a 20-year-old college student (Aja Brandmeier), returns home following a dig in the Badlands, she surprises her mother with news that she is in a love relationship – with her teacher who is nearly four decades her senior. Brandmeier and resident artist Michelle Mountain, who portrays mom Susan, give the audience a revealing view of the challenges of remaining a loving, supportive family when reckless life choices trigger major predicaments. Brandmeier and Mountain were so realistic in their characterizations of anger and shock that watching it felt like intruding on a family’s most private moments.
One of Colson’s most powerful scenes exemplified his character’s growth over a two-year period. He apologizes for everything – both things he was responsible for and things he wasn’t. “I’d give my life to give you yours,” he said.
Letscher’s dialogue masterfully incorporates the character of Jane’s father, who died under inferred tragic circumstances when she was a child, and provides frequent comedic relief from the serious nature of the storyline.
The play begins in present day, but moves 17 years into the future throughout the second act. The implications of the drastic changes in the world, both environmentally and societally in only one generation, are thought-provoking.
Director Guy Sanville appreciates Vincent Mountain’s simple set design, which when combined with the script and acting, provides the audience with a clear picture of the setting. Critical of frequent and time-consuming set and prop changes, Sanville says that he prefers the simplicity that permits the audience to use their imagination and keeps them in the moment.
“Gaps in the Fossil Record” will appeal to a wide audience, although the subject matter and language are for teens and older.
To learn some of the theories of the “Lovers of Valdaro” and to solve the mystery of paleontology that ties us together through common emotions, be sure to see “Gaps in the Fossil Record” before it closes on May 28.
Playwright Matt Letscher is a Michigan native and University of Michigan graduate who began his career at PRTC in Jeff Daniels’ original play, “The Tropical Pickle.” He has appeared in a number of hit television shows, including “The Flash,” “Scandal,” and “Carrie Diaries,” among others. He has also appeared in the films “13 Hours,” “Her,” “Teacher of the Year,” “Devil’s Knot,” “Towelhead,” “Identity,” and “The Mask of Zorro.” Letscher has also performed on Broadway. His other PRTC credits include “Rain Dance” by Lanford Wilson in 2001, and in 2007, he directed his own play, “Sea of Fools” for its world premiere.
“Gaps in the Fossil Record”
What: Winner of the 2015 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award
When: Now playing through May 28
Where: Purple Rose Theatre, 137 Park St.
Playwright: Matt Letscher
Director: Guy Sanville
Cast: Mark Colson, Aja Brandmeier, and Michelle Mountain
Crew: Design includes set by Vincent Mountain, properties by Luciana Piazza, costumes by Christianne Myers, lighting and projection by Noele Stollmack, and sound by Tom Whalen. Stage manager – Thomas Macias; managing director – Katie Doral.
Tickets: Available by logging onto www.purplerosetheatre.org or calling 734-433-7673.
About Purple Rose Theatre Company: Founded in 1991 by actor, playwright, musician and Chelsea native Jeff Daniels, the Purple Rose Theatre Company is a creative home for original American plays. In the 168-seat theater, patrons experience an intimate encounter with live theater.