Tatiana Pavela, Meghan Williams, Scott Weber,
and Amy Carrigan in Leakey's Ladies
(© Shell Sheddy)
Tatiana Pavela, Meghan Williams, Scott Weber,
and Amy Carrigan in Leakey's Ladies
(© Shell Sheddy)
In Leakey's Ladies, now at Dixon Place, we get three short plays -- presented in back and forth sections -- about Louis Leakey (Scott Weber) and fellow anthropologists Dian Fossey (Tatiana Pavela), Jane Goodall (Meghan Williams) and Birute Galdikas (Amy Carrigan), whom Leakey assigns adventures with African primates.

These three women are fascinated -- with good reason -- by their idol's work with, respectively, gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans. Unfortunately, while writers Crystal Skillman (Dian), Erin Courtney (Jane) and Rachel Hoeffel (Birute) have made clear the love their subjects feel for the animals to whom they've dedicated their life, none of them have figured out how to present their stories with suitable dramatic comprehension.

Indeed, the playwrights hint at other goals in their approach -- what motivated the women to take on this work, what their relationship to Leakey is, how extensive his mentoring was, or what their lives were like with significant others.

But these questions are never really answered, perhaps because, as a program note states, "the play is based on real people but is not meant to represent fact." And even if these vignettes are no more than the authors' notions of what could have happened, that's not really a good enough reflection on the obsessive work that Goodall, Galdikas, and the eventually murdered Fossey carried out in their search for the evolutionary link between primates and humans.

The script doesn't receive much enhancement for director-designer Gretchen Van Lente, who's hung vines from poles and strewn them on the floor. She has steam blown in from stage left a few times before the proceedings get underway, probably to remind spectators of Fossey's Gorillas in the Mist.

She's also dressed the three women in the right work clothes, but when on several occasions they return from Gombe, the Virunga Mountains and Borneo, they're dolled up in the oddest Brooklyn Industries-reminiscent outfits.

Best of all, there is affectionate play with puppets, designed by David Valentine and manipulated by Joseph Garner, Melissa Mendez and Julia Smith, all of whom instill more life in the gorillas, chimps and orangutans than the actors bring to their roles.