PROVO — One of the very few good things to come out of the pandemic is frequent local streaming theater, and An Other Theater Co.’s streaming production of The Fossil Record keeps up with the new tradition. The Fossil Record, written and directed by Lisa Hall, is about a dysfunctional family coming together when it is revealed that the family matriarch, Margaret, has a horrifying secret hidden in the garage.
As I have enjoyed other productions at An Other Theater Co. in the past, I really wanted to like The Fossil Record. Unfortunately, I spent most of the show confused about what was happening, and annoyed that the action was passing too quickly.This script had two very distinct acts, but because the director wanted to keep the show under ninety minutes, all of the dialogue was rushed. Sometimes it helps to see characters thinking about what they want to say next, but responses in this play came instantly.
The lack of pauses was not the main reason I was confused about the plot, but it certainly did not help. Everything about the story was kept vague, and not in a way that kept me interested in what was happening. Margaret, the alcoholic mother, is found to be hiding something in her garage. I thought, for almost the entire first act, that it was old heroin needles or some other kind of hard drug. Part of this misunderstanding was because the characters kept referring to Margaret by saying things like, “She was using at the time,” which makes it sound like she is a junkie. I have never heard anyone say an alcoholic was “using.” It does make sense to leave the reveal of what is in the garage for the end of the first act, but the tension and suspense that the play wanted me to feel just was not there.
I should clarify: this is not a bad production. There were many great moments, although they were all found in the design and acting, not in Hall’s script. One of the first great things about The Fossil Record that caught my eye was the lighting, designed by Adam Gowers. Gowers has an excellent grasp of the room the play is filmed in, and there were several notable moments where the characters were beautifully isolated in their scene. It complimented Ash Knowles’s set design, which I loved. I really enjoyed the cluttered, white room in the first act. The audience gets the idea that the room is full of Stuff, but that it doesn’t really matter what any of the stuff is, just that there is a lot of it.
The sound design, by Lisa Hall, was full of great music choices, although it was at times a little jarring to hear the music coming at a normal volume, rather than from the room like the actor’s voices. There is not a specific costume designer listed in the show program, although I did enjoy how the costumes felt so real that I hardly noticed them. Instead, they were simply a part of normal life. And while I do not know how to talk much about the video aspects of the production, I was particularly impressed with the camera quality, though. Not many streaming shows look this nice.
All the actors did a good job in their roles, and seemed to have a fairly decent understanding of their characters, but a standout role was Viviane Turman as Elsie, Laurie’s girlfriend. Although Elsie is only on stage for a portion of the second act, her character seemed to have the most realistic chemistry with every other character she interacted with, whether it was a positive relationship or not. The whole family felt the most real whenever Elsie was in the room with them. Kim Abunuwara’s performance as Margaret was also very dynamic and interesting, even if she did not seem to be an alcoholic so much as an average suburban mother on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
The one other complaint I had about the family was that no one seemed quite traumatized enough by their situation. They all talked a lot about how unfortunate their lives were, or how upset they were with each other, but it just did not show in the way lines were delivered. And no one seemed nearly shocked or disturbed enough about what was actively happening to them. In the scene with just Laurie and Ryan (played respectively by Liz Whittaker and Caleb Collier), they kept saying out loud about how much they did not like each other, but what I saw was two people who were fairly polite towards each other. All six actors were dedicated to their roles; the family not being traumatized was clearly a choice, even if it didn’t seem to suit the script.
Overall, The Fossil Record is not my favorite play I have seen from An Other Theater Company, nor was it a bad production. I spent much of the evening confused, though. There was stellar work from the actors and designers, but that was unfortunately overshadowed by the overly vague plot.