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A cautionary little comedy for slackers, Pete Rex begins one rainy afternoon with a couple of bros lazing on a couch in a man cave–y living room, playing an old Madden football game on Xbox. Boyhood friends, Pete (Greg Carere) and Bo (Simon Winheld) are aimless and clueless, stuck in their early thirties in their Pennsylvania hometown. “Is there such a thing as adult-onset Asperger’s?” Pete idly wonders. “It’s like I’m missing details…I can’t feel the right things.” Shaggy-headed Pete’s mind is so unfocused that he more or less shrugs over the fact that Julie (Rosie Sowa), his longtime girlfriend, has packed up and is ditching him today for New York City.
When a panicked Julie bursts in through the front door with some horrifying news, writer Alexander V. Thompson suddenly kicks his contemporary story into a wildly unexpected direction: Dinosaurs are attacking the town. Pete and Bo’s disbelieving laughter soon dies when a huge prehistoric creature starts sniffing threateningly outside on the porch. Shortly after, Bo dies, too. Barricading herself behind the overturned couch, Julie discovers beneath it an enormous egg that cracks open to reveal…something. Telling much more will lessen the impact of the playwright’s second-act surprise, but since the Dreamscape Theatre’s premiere is being produced in a fifty-seat space at 59E59 Theaters, it’s likelier that more people will read about this show than see it, so let’s press on with further details.
What pops up between Pete and Julie is a young, chatty Tyrannosaurus rex, who introduces himself as Nero (Winheld again, cleverly garbed by production designer Caitlin Cisek in a Goth-style monster mash-up of brown leather and scales-print denim, finished off with a requisite tail). Simultaneously affable and menacing, this anthropomorphic intruder easily beguiles Pete, a wannabe paleontologist who never got beyond community college. Julie perceives Nero as dangerous, but Pete remains unconvinced of the dinosaur’s serious threat, even when the creature admits that he intends to eventually “consume” his willing host. By this time in the 95-minute show, viewers probably will grasp what the devouring Nero represents. Can Julie save Pete? More to the point, will Pete be able to save himself?
A cartoon bolstered by thoughtful undertones, Pete Rex is scarcely a polished comedy. The psychological issues encumbering Pete could be better-defined. The mundane language could be brighter. The humor could be sharper: A game of Trivial Pursuit that Nero insists they play merely yields lame T. rex jokes rather than meaningful cracks about Pete’s slothful existence. Still, it’s an original story that plays out well enough under the direction of Brad Raimondo, who shifts the tale’s gears neatly. Remy M. Leelike’s lighting and Megan Culley’s sound effects credibly suggest dinosaurs roaming around the neighborhood. The actors provide agreeable performances. Pete is written as a self-absorbed dimwit, but Carere portrays him more as a lovable doofus than as a jerk. Sowa leavens her archetypical long-suffering girlfriend role with a wry sense of exasperation. Sporting black-ringed eyes that gleam with amusement — or is it hunger? — Winheld’s chipper Nero stalks his prey with a cheerful you-can’t-resist-me attitude. Its shortcomings as a play partly offset by a good production, Pete Rex offers an amusing consideration of the monsters that dwell inside all of us.