Senior Thesis Swoops Onstage, Tackles Colossal Ideas

By Kay Wicker & Maegan Clearwood
Lifestyle Editor & Editor-in-Chief

The lasting image from Nina Sharp’s senior directing thesis “PTERODACTYLS” was not a pterodactyl at all; it was the skeleton of a T-Rex alone in a ring of light and the ruins of a once animated, albeit dysfunctional, household. The contradiction between the title and the dinosaur onstage may have baffled some audience members, but Sharp wasn’t going for clarity so much as resonance.

“’PTERODACTYLS’ is a complex and confusing script, and we may never know exactly what [the playwright] Nicky Silver’s intentions were when he wrote it, but it was thrilling to discuss a piece of literature for such an extensive time–the group made discoveries about the play even after the performances were over,” she said. “This is the joy of theatre: it is a living thing that can be constantly reinterpreted. The audiences were large and responsive, and I was thrilled to have people approach me with questions, ideas, and stories of their own.”

The play centers around a young man, Todd (portrayed by freshman Zach Briglia), who returns home to break the news to his family that he’s infected with AIDS. His parents, sister, and soon-to-be brother-in-law are all in different stages of denial and dysfunction. Todd, recognizing that his family’s ignorance will eventually lead to their downfall, systematically destroys them until they are as extinct as the T-Rex skeleton he’s building throughout the play.

“The idea is that a T-Rex, as opposed to a pterodactyl, is literally and figuratively grounded, whereas pterodactyls fly around an issue, never touching down. My hope is that, even if the audience did not pick up on every intricacy of the play (and there are many), they at least left the theatre with something to think about.”

Even more impacted by the play were the five actors who studied the text for an entire semester before its premier last weekend.

“What was truly inspiring was how badly we wanted the show to be good; we all had a certain kind of energy from day one that we each brought together and made the show the great experience it was,” said sophomore Matt Ridge, who played Tommy. “Nina made sure that, not only were we thinking like our characters, but that we were becoming our characters and holding nothing back.”

It was a difficult play to tackle, but Sharp knew it was a story worth telling. She found the script sifting through the library stacks her sophomore year. After reading it in one night, she “utterly fell in love,” and not just because of her infatuation with dinosaurs.

“It made me laugh out loud in the most guilty way possible, and by the end of it I was perplexed but compelled and quite moved,” she said.

Many of the play’s more complex meanings were reflected in the artistic choices. The set, designed by Sharp herself, served as a minimalistic contrast to the chaos on stage, which included everything from drunken scuffles to violent seduction. During the musical interlude of act two, the actors literally deconstructed parts of the living room until it was as bare as the skeleton.

The lighting, designed by senior Lauren Tucker, depicted the passage of time, from the deceptively hopeful and promising spring to the cold, desolate winter. The first act was filled with farcical and crude humor, but by the end of the play, the house entered its own ice age and all of its inhabitants had either left or died. It is in this jarring shift of tone that the thought provoking message of the play can be found.

“Something we discussed in rehearsal was the need for people to be willing to hear and accept reality: it is only after we understand something that we are able to change it,” Sharp said about the play’s final word to the audience. “Advocate for truth, acceptance, and proactivity in any way you can. Listen and be heard. If we don’t do that, why are we even here?”

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