By Alexander V. Thompson; Directed by Brad Raimondo
Produced by The Dreamscape Theatre
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 3.3.18
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Asya Danilova on 2.15.18
Rosie Sowain and Greg Carere in Pete Rex. Photo by Hugh Mackey.
BOTTOM LINE: This Jurassic Park-themed rollercoaster glides up and down emotional slopes, leaving you guessing at every new genre turn.
Pete (Greg Carere) and Julie (Rosie Sowa) have just broken up. Pete is coping with the help of his best friend Bo (Simon Winheld) and the football videogame Madden '07, something that was always there to distract and comfort him, even when his relationship with Julie was viable. Tired of Pete’s immaturity and their life in New Kensington, Julie is set to flee to New York. A sudden invasion of dinosaurs jeopardizes her plans and she finds herself trapped in her ex's man-cave.
As the situation outside escalates, glimpses are brought to us by Megan Culley's fine sound design. The apocalyptic storm blends with dinosaurs’ roars; bits of TV news only confirm their worst fears. Inventive lighting by Remy M. Leelike supports the cinematic Creature Features atmosphere. And when you think it couldn’t get any worse, the inner dragons start to come out, making Pete Rex a whole other animal.
It's difficult to sympathize with Pete, whose videogame addiction seems more like a syndrome of a lazy mind than depression. And the abundant Madden ’07 references and metaphors may not score with those unversed in the game. But thankfully, Alexander V. Thompson chooses to dress up Pete’s inner conflict in something truly spectacular, namely a very polite and extravagant looking Tyrannosaurus named Nero (Simon Winheld’s much more successful part). And Caitlin Cisek's funky costume design plays perfectly on the show’s two dominant emotional waves: hilarity and horror.
The seamless transition between different genres is Pete Rex’s greatest asset and a rewarding source of surprises—you literally have no idea what is going to happen next. The otherwise uneventful breakup between two unremarkable thirty-somethings suddenly becomes a nerve-wracking thriller/apocalyptic action/psychological drama. As Julie, Sowa is very responsive to the play's emotional turns, and as Nero, Winheld shines. Carere's performance is less inspired, and remained rather careful at the preview I attended.
The overgrown teenager’s room, also designed by Cisek, features an outline of a cave entrance on the back wall, smartly hinting on the duality of the setting. Projections of the silhouette stop-motion cartoons, reminiscent of ancient cave drawings, punctuate Pete Rex, and 59E59's chamber theater creates an impression of full immersion. When the giant dinosaur is pounding on the roof and the lamp is rocking on the ceiling, you can almost feel the ground shaking. Pete Rex does well when playing with scale like this, giving the audience a chance to experience something far bigger than the theater itself.
(Pete Rex plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through March 3, 2018. The running time is 1 hour 35 minutes with one intermission. Performances are Tuesday through Saturdays at 7:30, Sunday at 2:30. Tickets are $25, and are available by calling 212-279-4200 or at 59e59.org.)
Pete Rex is by Alexander V. Thompson. Directed by Brad Raimondo. Set and Costume Design by Caitlin Cisek. Lighting Design by Remy M. Leelike. Sound Design by Megan Culley. Production Stage Manager is Patrick Harnett-Marshall.
The cast is Greg Carere, Rosie Sowa, and Simon Winheld.