You’ve probably seen it — that iconic black and white photograph of two skeletons unearthed in Verona, star-crossed lovers embracing each other for the past 1500 years.
Matt Letscher’s “Gaps in the Fossil Record,” produced by Purple Rose Theatre Co., puts metaphoric flesh on those bones and pumps blood into the mix. The world premiere offers a rich original story that educates and entertains. The story has more twists than an Ozark Mountains highway. Whew.
In the capable hands of Purple Rose artistic director Guy Sanville, the play’s words sing and the acting excels.
Mark Colson is Richard, a weary, aging paleontologist whose world comes alive on a dig when he falls in love with a 22-year-old intern, Jane (Aja Brandmeier).
The third leg on this stool of crooked dynamics is Susan (Michelle Mountain), the sultry 60-something mother of Jane. She is a parole officer by occupation and wields a salty sarcasm that bites the air and threatens to devour Richard alive. Susan is not entirely happy, to say the least, to discover her young daughter is married and already pregnant.
Colson gives Richard an amazing vulnerability. He disappears completely into his character Mountain develops Susan’s complexity and delivers Letscher’s sharp lines with a delicious, acerbic bite.
While the first act invites many laughs, it ends on a serious note, setting up a second act full of consequences — and then some. The second scene in Act II is the equivalent of a third act, taking the play into an apocalyptic future. Set in an assisted living hospital, the scene is an exchange between Richard and Meredith, his teenaged daughter, also played by Aja Brandmeier.
Playing two roles, first the young wife and then the 14 year old daughter, Brandmeier demonstrates a keen ability to be two distinct persons — starkly different in both manner and looks. Her 14-year-old in particular is both sullen and tender.
One cannot watch this play without sensing where the story might be going. Between the action, projections of six overlapping images of the two skeletal lovers from Verona are projected on a screen. Inevitably, it seems, the speculative stories about the future become the real story about the past.
Letscher has written an artful story, bringing imagination, deep feeling and rich color to a mere photograph of two skeletons in a lover’s embrace.
“Gaps in the Fossil Record”
Through May 28
3 p.m. Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
Purple Rose Theatre
137 Park St., Chelsea
(734) 433-7673, purplerosetheatre.org