Editors' pick

Squirrel, or the Origin of a Species

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Editorial Review

Fringe Festival: In ‘Squirrel,’ Charles Darwin takes on a rodent

By Nelson Pressley
Monday, July 18, 2011

The dialogue is comically evolved in “Squirrel, or the Origin of a Species” at Fort Fringe’s Redrum. Michael Merino’s intellectual farce is a two-character play featuring Charles Darwin and a chatty gray squirrel.

Time doesn’t matter in Merino’s playful, rapid-fire script (you can tell because Darwin is watching Animal Planet on TV). Contemporary references abound, and when the domestic relationship between man and beast grows testy, wounds are healed in a civilized manner — with an offer to buy a latte.

This is funny, in part, because of the excellent gray-squirrel costume worn by Carlos Bustamante, a furry hat with ear flaps and a pair of those goofy-looking “five-finger” toe shoes. But it’s also amusing because Merino’s play follows a studious pattern of social development, with slides announcing which stage is coming next.

So the play is high-minded mockery, and it’s directed gleefully by Kerri Rambow. Bustamante is a wiseacre as the rodent — not Bugs Bunny sarcastic but lively and flip. Ian LeValley is a blustery, pompous Darwin (LeValley also played Darwin last year at the Olney Theatre in Peter Parnell’s “Trumpery”), and the brisk staging and relentless banter make the performance a bit of an athletic event.

At times, it’s almost too dense and quick; Merino gives you a lot of social science to sort through amid all the gags. But it’s brash and heady, and one of the brightest happenings at the Fringe.