Humans can build computers and launch rockets and think of themselves as having a privileged place in the universe, but in the end, people are just animals. Or so Ryan O’Nan reminds us in several ways in his funny if uneven Animals. The play is not so much a unified, concrete work as it is a series of vignettes with certain commonalities. The most important continuity is a talented cast of three, each performing a wide variety of parts with irresistible energy. Particular recognition is due to Mortensen’s stand-out performance – her aptitude for animal mimicry proves that she, at least, understands her fellow animals, and she can do a mean Jersey accent. The first act is a loose arrangement of snapshots in a New Jersey diner. It begins inside the diner, where two overworked waiters (Michael Hirstreet and O’Nan), whose uniforms include fake pig snouts and tails, get into a bizarre spat and threaten each other with ketchup bottles. O’Nan’s character subsequently sits alone and reflects on his existential malaise, wondering about life’s purpose. Even this seeming seriousness is lightened by the fact that his comments are directed to a ham sandwich. The segment segues cleverly into a scene between two customers, then to pigeons on a wire above the customers, and finally to a pair of flies, a species that featured prominently in the customers’ earlier discussion (a woman coming off a bad break-up compares men to flies).
In the second act, the pace picks up with three separate vignettes. An alien arrives on Earth and mates with an ape, spawning Adam and Eve, who get together, in spite their father’s warnings, after he returns to the mothership for an audit. Next, we learn the real reason unicorns didn’t make it onto Noah’s Ark. Finally, three fed-up cows plan to escape their Texas dairy farm and make their way to India to be worshiped as gods.
In spite of the animal theme and pseudo-existential remarks that the vignettes have in common, they don’t hang together well, and may disappoint viewers who expect movement towards a conclusion. But for those who are open to seeing a production whose flow may lead to some head-scratching, Animals is great goofy fun. While much of its serious message is obscured, the subtle reminder that humans should exercise humility prevents the play from being just another loopy comedy.