Pity the frustrated television actor: Stymied by short takes and fluffy plots, he rarely gets to dig deep and really feel. And so the urge overtakes him to dabble in the theater—home of big, goopy emotions and real-time audience approval. Thus Extinction, a vanity project starring James Roday—from the gimmicky detective show Psych—and a few pals, now playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre in a production directed by Wayne Kasserman.
College buddies Fin and Max reunite in Atlantic City for a weekend debauch and nostalgia trip. The two used to be raging party monsters: chasing girls, getting high, rating their conquests with an elaborate point system. But creeping adulthood has taken the two hellions by surprise: Max, all glib one-liners and feckless appetites, is feeling the first pangs of mortality after recently burying his mother. Fin, once a self-anointed “writer,” is now an impoverished graduate student with two terrible secrets: He’s married, to a woman he loves, and, worse, there’s a baby on the way. Monogamy and reproduction: the ultimate betrayals of the duo’s freewheeling code.
Extinction starts out kind of fun: The friends trade ribald banter and teasing insults, scoring easy laughs. The acting is raffishly enjoyable: As Max, Michael Weston struts and preens with wolfish glee, rattling off rude quips (“Burlesque is the best thing to happen to fat chicks since black guys”). Roday’s shambling, apologetic turn as Fin is equally adept, capturing the ambivalence of a man adapting to narrowed horizons. Steven C. Kemp’s understated set embodies the tension between recollected glories and uncertain futures: a dorm-room wall covered with ’90s grunge-band posters hovers in the background, hazily visible beyond a scrim.
But as the two chums get coked-up and confessional, playwright Gabe McKinley gets bogged down in testosterone. The action goes from frat-boy ribbing to spiteful digging, and then to amped-up histrionics—bromance sours into nasty bro-vorce. The hotel room becomes a macho snakepit: A couple of part-time hookers are dragged into the mix for the guys to bounce their lusts and noble intentions off. As their characters get more intoxicated, Roday and Weston get more emotion-drunk: shouting, weeping, piling on the angst.
In the play’s skeezy final moments, the pair trades personas: Max retreats from making out into fetal-position ruminations; Fin abruptly assaults one of the girls, violating his marriage vows and nice-guy image. Primal urges overwhelming civilized facades? Buried decency reasserting itself? Who cares? By this point, like the unfortunate waif, we’ve been treated too roughly by all the sweaty male aggro.