by Lynn on February 2, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton, Ont. until February 11, 2023.

Written by Clem Martini

Directed by Christine Brubaker

Set by Scott Penner

Costumes by Jennifer Goodman

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Magic direction by Michael Kras

Sound by Ranil Sonnadara

Cast: Karen Ancheta

Richard Clarkin

Brandon McGibbon

Rebecca Northan

Anand Rajaram

Christopher Stanton

Provocative, wonderfully funny, and wisely thoughtful. A play not about extinction, but about life and it’s beautifully told in this wonderfully wild production.

The Story. The clients of the Extinction Therapist come to him for guidance about their impending demise or more accurately, their extinction. This is not about people with a death wish. It’s more bizarre and complicated than that. The blurb about the show is this:

 “Dr. Marshall’s therapeutic practice offers unconventional group support to those threatened with imminent extinction.  In his current session a libidinous Woolly Mammoth, a testy Nelson’s Short-Eared Shrew, the uncompromising Smallpox Virus, an insecure Tyrannosaurus Rex and the hapless Minister for the Environment, convene to receive group therapy, in an attempt to come to terms with the complicated, volatile feelings associated with their precarious life-and-death circumstances.

When Dr. Marshall’s personal issues are inadvertently introduced, matters of the heart, matters of environmental culpability, and personal mortality become inextricably intertwined.”

Each one of these ‘characters’ has issues of belonging, longing and wanting to prolong their lives.

The Production.  In Scott Penner’s set, Dr. Marshall’s (Richard Clarkin) home office is warm, comfortable and inviting. There are personal knickknacks around the room, an aquarium with fish languidly swimming and a whole back alcove covered with pots and pots of lush hanging plants. Dr. Marshall’s chair is a comfortable one that slightly tips back. The clients sit in chairs that are more rigid. 

As each client arrives, we get the measure of their many and different personalities.   The Woolly Mammoth (Rebecca Northan) appears calm and serene, but is so sex starved that in the group therapy sessions she keeps touching the knee of the politician. The Wooly Mammoth needs to find another Wooly Mammoth to procreate and there doesn’t seem to be any to provide sexual release, hence the knee-groping, albeit a politician’s. The Tyrannosaurus Rex (Christopher Stanton), huge, awkward and ungainly for any ‘room’ it’s in, could not get enough vegetation to maintain itself.  The small Nelson’s Short-Eared Shrew (Karen Ancheta) is constantly mistaken for a rat or rodent and is sick of the mistake.  The Small Pox Virus (Anand Rajaram) is power hungry and angry at losing the power to kill thousands of people, as well as angry at the vaccine that ended its career as a mighty killer. It revels in the fear it evoked as it cut a swath across the world killing thousands of people.  It seems that the loathing the virus has for the world that stopped it is profound.

As for Glen Merrick, the Politician,  he is the Minister of the Environment so that’s a pretty depressing thing. No one can help the environment because big business and the government are doing their best to destroy it.  He has not had an original idea in years. He knows he is ineffectual and it often makes him hyperventilate. And while the therapist is helpful to his clients, asking pertinent questions to get them to look at their doomed situation in a positive light, he has his own issues.

He and his wife, Joan, (also the versatile Rebecca Northan) are separated. He said he needed his space.  She moved out but comes often to check on him. She cares about him but he’s distant and often has an excuse for missing appointments with her.  They were to go to dinner but his clients needed him at the last minute, so he disappointed her. Communication is difficult for this couple. Dr. Marshall is stingy with his information to his wife. He works to avoid telling her personal information.  As Dr. Marshall, Richard Clarkin, is easy-going and always has a compassionate, hopeful question for his clients which could lead to a more hopeful revelation.

Joan, his wife, is more accommodating. She is just as capable of asking a probing question of her husband as he is of asking such a question to his clients. Rebecca Northan has that kind, wise way about this character. Joan’s humanity is all over this performance because of the care Rebecca Northan invests in her.

The production is masterful. Truly. I found director, Christine Brubaker’s direction to be smart, very clever and witty. The size and clumsiness of the Tyrannosaurus Rex is indicated by Christopher Stanton who wears a green helmet; biker shorts, knee and shoulder pads.  He carries a soft kind of curved bag or carrying case along his back and it looks like a short tail of the tyrannosaurus. Christopher Staunton is a good-natured clumsy dinosaur.  It has a ponderous walk in which he seems to bang into everything. Boxes fall when he pushes by them, as does furniture, and all manner of things with which it comes into contact.  Somebody always cleans up after the Tyrannosaurus.  It’s the loss of vegetation that resulted in the animal’s extinction. Interestingly at the back of the space there are several lush hanging plants. I love that irony.

The Small Pox Virus (Anand Rajaram) is in a straight-jacket with the arms tied up and so are the legs in a way—guaranteed not to be able to move properly. It’s very effective. As the Small Pox Virus, Anand Rajaram wears a long stringy wig and a constant look of contempt on it’s face. He is furious at the world and the stupidity of its inhabitants. He would like nothing better than to have wiped them all out.  

Nelson’s Short-Eared Shrew (an accommodating, cheerful Karen Ancheta), a kind of rodent-like creature–eagerly sits on its haunches, good natured.

Glen Merrick (Brandon McGibbon) is the only human client of Dr. Marshall. Glen Merrick is usually in a suit and tie. He is guilt ridden about his uselessness. He is frustrated by his ignorance and hopelessness as the Minister of the Environment. He is so despondent, he sometimes hyperventilates in a therapy session with Dr. Marshall, or in a group meeting. And he has a secret that Dr. Marshall discovers, much to the horror of Glen Merrick. 

I thought Christine Brubaker directed this with terrific good humor, whimsy and such a delicate sense of detail.  There is such thought in the humour and of course lots of drama too.

Clem Martini’s play is provocative, funny and thought-provoking. He has used extinct animals and a virus to illustrate the effects of climate change to change life styles, and the inventions of vaccines to do good and eradicate a deadly virus.

I thought having the animals facing extinction by talking to a therapist to cope with their demise is terrific.  It’s a quirky way of looking at the world, the results of climate change, even from an historical perspective, the notion of loneliness, community, truth, and love.

At the last minute we learn that the therapist is leaving his practice because he too has had some news that has changed the course of his life. How will he deal with it? Will he allow his wife to help him cope? She is the anchor in his life and he realizes it. 

If you have only a few months or years to live then you should spend it living and not fretting,  which is the natural result of a devastating prognosis. The Extinction Therapist posits another way: to live each moment. The Extinction Therapist is not about extinction. It’s about living.

I think that’s terrific. Fascinating play.

Theatre Aquarius presents:

Plays until Feb. 11, 2023.

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes, (with 1 intermission)

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