Thursday, February 18, 2010


There's little in Gabe McKinley's Extinction that hasn't been done before, but why should that stop you from seeing it? Two old "friends"--the bully and his thrall--reunite, at long last bringing forth secrets that will pit one's abrupt decision to grow up against the other's desperate clutching at the dregs of youth. Jealousy will be the deadly sin of the evening, especially now that Finn (James Roday) has gone broke trying to lead the righteous life of a married professor, while Max (Michael Weston) couldn't crap out at a casino if he wanted to, leading the charmed/villainous life of a womanizing pharmaceutical rep. Drugs and prostitutes show up, no doubt, as does a drinking game that brings things to a boil. Despite being set an Atlantic City hotel, it's a very L.A. play.

But this is where the theatrical "survival of the fittest" comes into play, for McKinley's writing is slicker than the average bear's and his jokes do more than demonstrate his own cleverness: they deepen our connection to the characters, from their history of Mick Jagger impersonations to the ease of their offensiveness ("Burlesque," says Max, "is the best thing to happen to fat chicks since black guys") and their remembrances of conquests past ("Jesus, it was like sticking my dick in a beehive"). Max is shameless--he watches porn for "the articles"--and Finn is the sort of guy who looks as if LL Bean puked all over him. And both leads seem to have been naturally selected: Weston's spastic machismo is well-matched by Roday's solemn wistfulness.

Most importantly--and Wayne Kasserman's sharp direction helps--McKinley's comic vices don't overpower the bleak truths of Extinction. The prostitutes Max hires, Missy (Amanda Detmer) and Victoria (Stefanie E. Frame), are far from happy-go-lucky: their unhappiness is clearly hidden, especially since this is Victoria's first time. Finn describes the whole thing as "a Jay McInerney novel," and that's not far from the mark, save for the remorse and consequences being much more immediate. In fact, Kasserman uses Steven C. Kemp's clever see-through set design to show us what awful things happen behind closed doors, the distance perverting our normal sense of intimacy, as if reminding us that we cannot run from ourselves.

So yes, Extinction may have plenty of the same-old same-old, but it's only by running through those familiar paces over and over again that we end up evolving to anywhere new, and in this case, there are at least a few well-earned surprises and some entertaining performances.

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