Nicky Silver’s “Pterodactyls” Is an Offbeat Comedy About the Family Who Put the D in Dysfunctional

"Pterodactyls" runs Feb. 10-18 in Cary
"Pterodactyls" runs Feb. 10-18 in Cary
"Pterodactyls" runs Feb. 10-18 in Cary
"Pterodactyls" runs Feb. 10-18 in Cary

The Free Association Theatre Ensemble of Cary, NC will present Pterodactyls, New York playwright Nicky Silver’s offbeat Off-Broadway comedy for mature audiences, on Feb. 10th and 11th and 16-18 in its performance space at 267 Grande Heights Dr. in the Harrison Pointe Shopping Center in Cary. FATE cautions, “This show contains adult material, and is not recommended for young children. Discretion is advised.”

FATE board member Leslie A. Pless will direct a cast that includes Chris Brown, Michelle Corbitt, Mikey Gerardi, Ann Roy, and Stephen Wall; and Stephanie Thirolle will stage manage the show.

First produced Off Broadway at Vineyard Theatre in New York City in October 1993, under the direction of David Warren, Pterodactyls starred T. Scott Cunningham and Hope Davis as siblings Todd and Emma Duncan, Kelly Bishop and Dennis Creaghan as their parents Grace and Arthur Duncan, and Kent Lanier as Emma’s boyfriend Tommy McKorckle. That production was nominated for the 1994 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play.

According to Dramatists Play Service, Inc.:

“Dysfunction takes on new meaning with the Duncan Family. We laugh throughout, as we watch the family disintegrate, and finally realize the seeds of this dysfunction lie within us all.”

In reviewing the original Off-Broadway production of Pterodactyls, The New York Times critic wrote, “… Pterodactyls struck me as the flip-side of The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder’s antic celebration of mankind’s ability to muddle through.” The New York Post added, “There are times — not all that many, admittedly — when a critic wishes he had never used the word ‘brilliant’ before, so he could offer it fresh minded and glittering to something new. And different…”

TheaterWeek claimed, “Clever is the word for Pterodactyls … clever, sharp, witty — it’s a play that takes aim at the main-streamed, moneyed, conventional American family and buries it under one satiric jibe after another.”


Also according to Dramatists Play Service, Inc.:

“[Pterodactyls is a]n absurdist black comedy about the demise of the Duncan family, and, by extension, the species. Emma Duncan, a hypochondriac with memory problems, and her orphaned fiancé, Tommy, confront her mother, Grace, with the news of their intended marriage. Disapproving at first, Grace acquiesces and puts Tommy to work as a maid.

“Shortly after, Grace’s son, Todd, returns home and announces he has AIDS, which sets off a frenzy of denial-spurred activity. The father, Arthur Duncan, reaches out to his son who is more interested in assembling the dinosaur bones he discovers in the back yard.

“As the wedding approaches, Tommy falls in love with Todd and when confronted with this news, Emma goes quite spontaneously deaf. It is only during a frenzied wedding rehearsal, after Tommy is informed he’s HIV positive and Emma shoots herself with a gun given to her by her brother as a wedding gift, does the possibility that Todd is destroying his family rear its head.

“As winter descends, the bottom falls out of the farce and the tone is replaced with a more ironic one. Tommy has died (although he’s not been buried as ‘the ground is too hard’), Grace’s glamour has been replaced with an alcoholic haze, and Arthur cannot remember that Emma has died. Only Todd remains unchanged.

“In a final manipulation, Todd accuses Arthur of being responsible for Emma’s death, and provokes his father into attacking him. Grace has no choice but to banish Arthur from the house and into what now seems a lifeless tundra outdoors.

“Left alone with his mother, Todd pours her drink after drink as the months pass, until she too, at last, is dead. Finally, as Todd embraces his sister’s ghost, we see the dinosaur skeleton, now complete.

“No one knows why the dinosaurs lived, or died, Todd told his mother. He suggests the possibility that their end was the natural order of things ‘and no tragedy. Or disease. Or God.'”


Free Association Theatre Ensemble presents PTERODACTYLS at 8 p.m. Feb. 10 and 11 and 16-18 in FATE’s performance space, 267 Grande Heights Dr., Cary, North Carolina 27513, in the Harrison Pointe Shopping Center.

TICKETS: $15 ($10 students and educators, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).

BOX OFFICE: 919/228-8184 or





The Play: (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.).

The Script: (Google Books).

The Playwright: (official website) and (Wikipedia).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).