Emma is also blocked as she reads up on Darwin and struggles to translate billions of years of slo-mo evolution into Fichter’s bright jungle of a mural, amid whose flowers, monkeys, birds, and fish both a grandfatherly Darwin and a portrait of the artist as new mother cuddling the envelope of her genes will eventually take their places. But when she’s not locking heads with her artwork, Emma and Charles (the husband, not the inspiration) are having the sort of fights over their shared life’s evolution that you would have expected them to have had years ago (and they would not have been revelatory then). Lopez means, I think, for the play to boast an element of awe and mystery: the God that’s in the evolutionary details. But that day never dawns.
Director Diego Arciniegas keeps the alternately informative and banal carnival moving along, and the puppet carapaces by Roxanna Myhrum add a welcome whimsy. Moreover, the performances by the actors in their primary roles are natural enough, with Wesley Savick a gently dyspeptic Darwin and Kortney Adams’s Emma as bemused by what shows up in her cranium as she is by the crisply eccentric obstetrician played by URT artistic director Debra Wise. But the weirder incarnations, from a nutty-professor Thomas Malthus to a two-headed cow, get exaggerated and pushy, as if this were a kids’ show that just happens to include an adult marital drama. Which brings us to the bottom line. From Orchids to Octopi — which is meant to trigger various scientist-led post-performance discussions, and which will also be played for student audiences — may make an effective learning tool. But as a play, it’s paint-by-numbers — even if, thanks to Fichter, the paint’s at least as impressive as the numbers.
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