By John Quinn
“Consider the Oyster,” a thoughtful comedy by Detroit-born playwright David MacGregor, is receiving a robust world premiere at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea. We frequently run across “I did not know that” moments in theater, but who knew a mollusk was good for anything but a slimy slide down your gullet or furnishing the perfect accessories to a little black dress?
It seems the nacre, or “mother of pearl” for you W. C. Fields fans, is powered and used in bone reconstructive surgery. Or, as one research paper puts it, “The experiments show that nacre, a type of natural nano-bioceramic material, when used as bone implant for reconstruction of bone defects, is not only biocompatible and biodegradable, but also osteoconductive and osteoinductive.” Indeed.
While the science is real, “Consider the Oyster” is fantasy. Michiganders will realize that immediately, because, as the play opens, the Detroit Lions are playing in the Super Bowl. Two die-hard fans, Gene (Michal Brian Ogden) and Eliot (Matthew David), are watching the final seconds of the game when, caught up in the exuberance, Gene impulsively proposes to his girl, Marisa (Stacie Hadgikosti). He then proceeds to break a leg. A few titanium pins, a little powdered nacre, eight weeks healing and Gene should be good to go. Ah, but there are unintended consequences. Oysters are all born male and become female as they mature. A blending of DNA produces a metamorphosis in Gene less gruesome than Kafka, but no less disturbing.
MacGregor’s script is a fine-crafted piece of comedy. It’s funny, sometimes outrageous, yet the humor is never forced and flows naturally from the plot. “Consider the Oyster” is a fresh, unique rendition of an ageless theme: love’s triumph over adversity. Yet there are deep philosophical undertones here. “You go through life thinking you know who you are,” says Gene. Who are we, down in our core? Can a man ever understand a woman if he’s never walked a mile in her Manolo Blahniks? Can anybody walk a mile in Manolo Blahniks?
At the helm of “Consider the Oyster” is Artistic Director Guy Sanville, who presents us with the quality work we’ve come to associate with The Purple Rose company over the last two decades. The tempo is just right to highlight MacGregor’s witty lines. Michael Brian Ogden, Matthew David and Stacie Hadgikosti hit all the right notes and work as a tight ensemble in their scenes. Ogden is particularly adept at some very physical comedy. Toss into the mix the incomparable Sarab Kamoo, who brings bark as well as bite to her portrayal of Marisa’s mother Kay, an ambulance-chasing, pit bull of an injury attorney.
Dennis G. Crawley gives us a remarkable set – Gene and Eliot’s gritty loading dock/loft/living space. The attention to detail is outstanding. Glass block, ceramic-faced cinder block and dirty glass windows achieve a realism that anchors an otherwise surrealistic play.
Forgive me if I give too much away – I hate spoilers. But Rhiannon Ragland needs recognition for her fine-tuned performance. Not only is the role intensely physical, she also plays a wealth of conflicting emotions with grace and ease. MacGregor has given her some of the best lines in the script, including a touching second act monologue that kept the audience hanging on every word. Ragland nailed it.
Am I being a little too coy? Well, if you’re looking for pearls of wisdom, you’ll have to open your own oysters.
‘Consider the Oyster’
The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park St., Chelsea. Wednesday-Sunday through Sept. 3. $25-$40. 734-433-7673. http://www.purplerosetheatre.org