It’s the end of the world as we know it. No, it’s not the Sequester, but the Trinity Rep world premiere of “Social Creatures” by Jackie Sibblies Drury, a graduate of the Brown MFA playwrighting program, who wrote it specifically for Trinity Rep. As the end of world approaches, several survivors are holed up in the basement of a building revealed to be a theater (and an amusingly familiar one), barricading themselves against contagion and whatever else is trying to get in. “Outside” has become an unfamiliar wasteland, as all the trees are dying. The world is being decimated by some unidentified crisis, and the resultant population of zombies threatens this last remaining vestige of humanity. This small intrepid group is attempting to preserve what’s left of civilization, even as they notice one of them beginning to turn into one of “them”, the “others” who have developed an insatiable taste for the flesh of mankind.
The story begins, as all horror stories should, in the dark, as we first encounter the Joneses (Alexander Platt and D’Arcy Dersham) as they are attempting to start a generator. Keeping up with the Joneses are Mrs. Smith (Rebecca Gibel), Mr. Johnson (Timothy Crowe), Mrs. Wilson (Janice Duclos) and Mrs. Williams (Nance Williamson). If these are beginning to seem like pseudonyms to you, you’re on the right laugh track. Mr.Smith (Charlie Thurston) has gone missing. Mr. Brown (Darien Battle) arrives to complicate things, which are already rather complex, mostly due to some rigid agreed-upon rules. To divulge much more than that would be to spoil the fun. The cast of eight (surprising for a play these days) is superb, considering that a ninety-five minute running time doesn’t leave much time for the actors to (you should excuse the expression) flesh out their roles. But as directed by Trinity’s Artistic Director Curt Columbus, they’re a tight-knit ensemble. It would be difficult to determine who had the, uh, meatiest roles. The technical team are all contributive to the bizarre goings-on, from Set Designer Eugene Lee to Costume Designer Olivera Gajic to Lighting Designer Josh Epstein and Sound Designer Peter Sasha Hurowitz.
This short but not sweet comic tragedy, or “dramedy”, has some very creative elements concerning basic human nature and who the true monsters are in society. While struggling to maintain some semblance of order and normality, the characters have decided, among other regulations, not to use their real names until they find themselves able to be their old real selves. Two of them even wax nostalgically about their past lives (which itself is against their rules), revealing previous rather inconsequential roles as a plastics manager and a clay cat painter; they even share a vague feeling of “waiting for something to happen”. In this and other scenes, this novice playwright displays a sure ability for writing natural dialogue, as well as an inventive mind. Sometimes funny, sometimes thought-provoking, it’s an admirable early effort. Theatergoers’ appreciation of the play might well depend on their fondness for the drive-in B-movie zombie genre it both emulates and spoofs. That target niche will find this a thoughtful hoot, although a one-act play of such brevity doesn’t give an audience much to sink its teeth into.