It was exciting to see a solid full house at Loft Ensemble‘s production, Social Darwinism by playwright Angela Gant, directed by Adam Chambers, who were both in attendance for this past weekend’s special talk-back and one of Loft’s best received plays by their regular, edgy, millennial crowd. And boy did they go bananas (pun intended) for this broadly structured, aggressively muscular farce in all its gelastic sagacity.
Social Darwinism is a sociopolitical absurdist comedy that follows a familial group: an Alpha Male, Alpha Female, Second Banana (Subordinate Male), Subordinate Female, Adolescent Male, Adolescent Female, Outside Male and Outside Female as they move through several different social classes moderated by a Field Scientist and his Assistant in a close-up exhibit of pugnacious, Pan Troglodyte behavior.
A winner of the Paula Vogel Award Kennedy Center ACTF 2006 and National Student Playwriting Award Kennedy Center ACTF 2006, the play looks at racism, male homosexuality, and feminist ideals. Additionally, Social Darwinism shows the subjugation of women, which changes as the play evolves.
The first act begins with the group in their chimpanzee form where both Alpha Males and Alpha Females have more or less equal power. They then move into a redneck social structure, followed by a more socially complex (and creepy 1950’s style) middle class where female authority has been almost completely subordinated, rendered to frivolity.
In act two the characters transcend to a colder, more cerebrally structured, upper class environment. The play ends with the characters degenerating back to their more primitive form.
This is one of Loft’s more interesting theatrical/movement pieces showcasing vigorous corporeal (you might even blush, I kind of did) and brutish actions by heads of the clan and down the line; although those actions become more timid depending on the social status of each individual in the group.
Until, that is, when the rightful Alpha Female decides to take back her equal power. In a planned coup, she takes up arms against the male, with the entire family and all rebellious hell breaks loose. The group wildly beats down the head of their clan in a kick-ass fight scene, where they totally unseat and kill him, and replace him with a new leader.
Theatrically, it’s a field day of no-holds-barred relationship incorrectness. And that might be the single best reason to go. Angela Gant’s writing is as keen as it is diverting. Don’t be fooled by the show-boating. Nobody really likes to cop to the uncomfortable dynamics of human behavior in all its gross candor. Gant sticks the subject provocatively front and center as plain as the nose on your face. We go along with the whole thing because it’s honestly and humorously presented. What seems like multiple storylines are actually a fascinating repetition of the same scenario playing out in different frameworks and shifted power centers.
The Loft Ensemble casts does a great job with this piece headed by Danielle Power (Alpha Female) and Tyler Grant Fairbank (Alpha Male). Tor Jensen Brown (Second Banana) and Jefferson Reid (Outside Male) chiefly bring all the hilarity, with appropriate outbursts by Devan Schoelen (Adolescent Male) followed up by James Lamb as the obnoxious Field Scientist (who gets it in the end from his own female counterpart).
Some of the emotional and physical character choices by cast members could at times, be larger and occasionally much more specific in delivery. But really, the whole piece is amusing and lively. There’s not much that could possibly get in the way of this play.
Written by Angela Gant
Directed by Adam Chambers
Produced by Bree Pavey and Adam Chambers
Assistant Directors are Amanda Chambers, Max Marsh and Arrianna White
Fight Choreography by Brian Danner
Choreography by Tara Brown
Cast: Danielle Powers, Tyler Grant Fairbank, Tor Jensen Brown, Shaina Krashin, Sydney Lloyd, Graciela Campos, Devan Schoelen, Martha Constantine, Jefferson Reid, James Lamb, and Lara Bunta Crnigoj.
Photo (above) by Amanda Chambers: Martha Constantine as Outside Female and Tyler Fairbank as Alpha Male