Have you ever watched Jurassic Park and wished that it was a lot weirder? And that, instead of a magical prehistoric island, it took place in a small suburban town? And maybe, instead of trained and intelligent scientists, its protagonists were simply three townies who never entirely believe their predicament? Welcome to Pete Rex, 59E59 Theatres’ absurdist Jurassic Park. Written by Alexander V. Thompson and directed by Brad Raimando, Pete Rex features the classic fictional clash between man and dinosaur – but not quite as it’s ever been done before.
Our main character and eponymous hero, though one might be quick to question the word, is Pete. He’s a thirty-something who seems to spend his entire day in his shag-carpeted, poster-plastered den with the blinds drawn and his thumbs glued to the buttons of a controller. To any women who are beyond frustrated from trying in vain to get men to listen to them – sometimes in life-or-death circumstances – Pete (Greg Carere) can be nothing but utterly detestable. He’s brimming with toxic masculinity, he’s selfish, he’s lazy, he’s inattentive, and worst of all, he seems to have no idea.
When we first meet Pete, he is settled on his couch with his best friend Bo (Simon Winheld). The two of them are happily ensconced in their “Madden Tuesday” ritual. Crushed aluminium cans litter the floor, and there’s a pizza box shoved under the furniture, Pennsylvania sports team logos on the wall, and a neon beer sign glowing somewhere. It’s a total man cave – until the scene is interrupted by Julie (Rosie Sowa), who runs screaming and panting in the room and tries to whip the boys into survival mode. There is something oddly endearing about Pete, despite the fact that he utterly ignores every word of advice from Julie, the only sane character – who also happens to be his girlfriend. (Ex-girlfriend, she’ll remind you!) Greg Carere brings a wide-eyed, innocent stupidity to the character of Pete, and once you get past the initial frustration, he’s actually quite funny.
What does a dinosaur attack look like on a small stage like the cosy one of Theater C at 59E59? It’s pulled off brilliantly through great sound effects and lighting which almost convinces us, the audience, that we’re in danger too. But the catastrophe becomes much more real when the dinosaur attack manifests itself on the floor of Pete’s den in the form of a newly hatched Tyrannosaurus Rex. Just when Pete comes to terms with this, the T-Rex (also Simon Winheld) begins to talk in a posh British accent – and he introduces himself as Nero. Winheld’s performance is nothing short of delightful, but Nero’s purpose is not so much so.
I don’t want to give away much of the story’s plot points. The suspense of this play, and its unpredictable twists and turns like an erratic roller coaster, are perhaps its best quality. But despite the sometimes-strained dialogue, the strength of the story’s characters is its real substance anyway. You find that, despite the total unrelatability of the situation and their even more unrelatable reaction to it, you might really care if they’re dragged away by a Diplodocus or not. As for the ending, I’ll prepare you to decide for yourself: were the dinosaurs that Pete set out to vanquish real, or was it his own tyrannical vices that he was fighting the whole time?