Before you whine about the insufferable heat presently crushing this city, take a walk in the make shift shoes of the characters in Dylan Lamb's Alligator Summer. And the oppressive heat is just the tip: they're beyond impoverished, held hostage by a circling swarm of alligators, and bursting with long held secrets. Sounds like most family reunions, right?
Watching the play, it's clear that Dylan Lamb pulled from a myriad of sources, including Tennessee Williams and southern melodrama. But this world is all of Lamb's doing. In a one-room shack in backwoods Louisiana, two families - The Gettysburgs and the Juleps - are trapped, forced into cohabitation by the gators swimming just below the floor. In this setting (a beautifully trashy set by Kathryn Lieber) it doesn't take long to realize that beneath the dirty ply wood, many nasty family secrets lie. As these come to light, the final question becomes who will do the devouring: the gators or the people?
What's also clear early on is that Dylan Lamb can write. From the first lines, you're struck by the very unique way his characters talk, and how distinctive each of them are. In this talent, I don't think comparisons to the Coen Brothers and Christopher Durang are out of place. Taking the writing even further is director Brandi Varnell's efficient staging, and a fine cast, each of whom approaches their unique characters with an emotional truthfulness that's rare in plays like this.
In spite of the great dialogue and acting, however, Alligator Summer falls short as a complete work. As the story progresses, the play's cracks begin to show. Though always fun to watch and hear, the emotional lives of Lamb's characters seem underwritten, leaving us with little development to follow after the first hour. The play itself also seems uncertain. At the top, Alligator Summer is a funny, thoughtful take on gothic melodrama. By the end, however, it's fallen into actual melodrama, with secrets, and blood, spilling for no other reason than to give the play a way to close. I hope this can be fixed. Alligator Summer ends in a far too traditional manner for such original and creative writing.
At just an hour and a half, Dylan Lamb's writing and the actors' performances are enough to push the play, albeit sluggishly, over the finish line. And though I think these characters deserve a more developed story, I will certainly be on the lookout for more from Lamb and Squeaky Bicycle Productions.