"Finding Fossils," now receiving a respectable L.A. premiere at the Lankershim Arts Center, finds playwright Ty DeMartino examining the contentious relationship between a recent widower and his gay son. As such, this Road Theatre Company presentation, which plays in rep with "The Water's Edge," may resonate with sympathetic audiences, though its dramatic viability is variable.
It's Fourth of July weekend at the Monterelli family summer home, where patriarch Vincent (John Gowans) previously brought his ailing wife to die, without informing his long-estranged kids. This holiday, Gus (Chet Grissom), his soap opera director son, reluctantly arrives for one last stab at connecting with cantankerous Dad. It takes lakeside neighbor Johnny (Mark Costello), a maternal caregiver and contrast to the bickering Monterellis, to put things in perspective.
Under Suzanne Hunt's capable direction, "Fossils" suggests an inversion of the film "Beginners" by way of a bucolic dramedy -- think "On Golden Pond" killing off Ethel Thayer and giving Chelsea an inchoate gay brother. Grissom does yeoman work as Gus, most touching against Gowans' keenly understated curmudgeon, and Costello's easy bonhomie makes Johnny's character and situation the most interesting on stage.
That's a problem. Although author DeMartino intelligently charts the central dynamic, he hasn't given its clashes and revelations very high stakes or much surprise, and the over-explicated dialogue specifies some things better left inferred through the rising action. "Finding Fossils" isn't a bad play, but the literate familiarity and soft-cored impact seem more suited to the pages of the New Yorker.
-- David C. Nichols
"Finding Fossils," Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 25. $25. (866) 811-4111 or www.RoadTheatre.org. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Photo: John Gowans, left, Chet Grissom and Mark Costello. Credit: Chris Goss.