Extinction by Gabe McKinley is about two college friends who meet up in Atlantic City for an annual descent into drugs and debauchery; only this weekend, Max (Michael Weston), the more financially successful of the two, who’s footing the bill, is going to get a shock from Finn (James Roday), who dutifully shows up, but who is no longer in the groove. Finn’s gone straight now, a teacher—in debt up to his ass and married; and while he’d like to eradicate the first condition, he’s adamant about carefully maintaining the second, which means that two of the activities Max has most been anticipating as team sports—getting chemically enhanced and womanizing—will be severely compromised.
In a program note, it's purported that the play means to explore the nature of things that die out, or live beyond their functional time, in the human experience as with nature, friendship being a prime subject; and while it’s certainly true that altered individual pathways, different levels of maturity and shifting values, are factors, Mr. McKinley seems rather to be writing more about co-dependency, with Max knowing how to press Finn’s buttons and Finn getting sucked in despite his firmest resolve.
And with womanizing and drugs—external activities—being the tests of “evolutionary” stagnation or development, the realer issues of internal development get sidelined. Granted, the challenge a dramatist faces is how to externally dramatize an internal rite of passage—that is, how to make the audience comprehend psychological transition through action—but casual sex and recreational drugs are such easy, boilerplate triggers that they render the affected characters less interesting—and less appealing—than they would be facing issues unique to them. One could of course argue the many previous (and even classic) plays in which alcohol or some other substance is used to free (or expose) demons; but the problem here is that the demons are hovering in the open, drugs don't reveal them so much as exacerbate them, and their inevitable release brings little surprise or revelation.
intellectualizing, though, can be somewhat moot if a play of this sort
at least earns its keep by holding interest, and there Extinction is a
mixed/positive experience. Playwright McKinley has an ear for snappy dialogue and funny
lines, and he has two lead actors famous for delivering such facilely: Roday, best known
as fake psychic detective Shawn Spencer on USA Network’s Psych and Weston, who plays P.I. Lucas Douglas on Fox’s House,
M.D. Under Wayne Kasserman’s
direction, they do quite well, even unto the descent into unfunny territory (with Amanda
Detner and Stephanie E. Frame also doing
well as the inevitable women; who in fact play more interestingly layered
characters than the men do, per the distinction above). But the descent is so unrewarding that
I kept thinking of the play as Hurlyburly Lite. Indeed, as the
kind of darkly comic, drug culture drama that may itself be on the path to
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