If you have been following the career of playwright Ben Clawson (Montclair State ’07), as we have, you can’t help but come away from his latest, “Omnivores,” with the feeling: this boy is growing up.
“Omnivores,” a Strange Dog Theatre production at Playwrights Theater in Madison, is an ambitious attempt to overlay unresolved family conflicts on a ripped-from-the-headlines event — a woman grievously injured when a teen prankster drops a frozen turkey from a highway bridge onto her passing car.
Clawson is at his best when he’s being wise-crackingly funny. When he digs into the family conflicts, he stays a bit on the surface, though as someone raised to believe the wisecrack is the highest form of human expression, it’s a bit hard for me to complain.
The heart of the play is the lifelong conflict between brothers. Cole Mitchell (Joseph Palestina) is an unhappy community college adjunct professor. His brother Clyde (Brian Parks) is a construction worker bristling with resentments.
Scott Cagney, who specializes in doofuses overwhelmed by their circumstances, turns in a strong performance as the terrorized prankster Louis, dripping in bodily fluids. Thom Molyneaux is a riot as the brothers’ Uncle Nutsy, who embraces his status as the family primitive.
And we have to mention the set, a well-executed grimy cabin in the woods.
Is it worth driving all the way to Madison? Yes. Despite its humor, “Omnivores,” Clawson’s most ambitious play to date, never gives its audience a rest. But then, plays in which a gun appears during the first act so rarely do.