Dangerous Giant Animals is a one-person show about growing up with a disabled sibling, based on writer/performer Christina Murdock's real life experiences. As she says at the end of the show, this kind of 'everyday tragedy' is rare to see portrayed on the stage or screen. As audiences, we're trained to be moved by deaths and fights, war and heartbreak. This is a play that definitely gets you thinking and promotes plenty of discussion afterwards, and it's clearly a piece that resonated with some of the parents and children in the audience. I found it interesting, but it ultimately failed to move me, lacking the finesse and energy that could have made it greater.
A play that definitely gets you thinking and promoted plenty of discussion
Claire is a middle child, sandwiched between her older sister who is about to go off to college, and her younger sister, Kayla, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy and seems destined to remain in a child-like state for most of her life. Kayla loves dinosaurs, lions and the colour purple. She likes squirty cream and struggles to express herself with a limited vocabulary. Over the hour, Murdock takes us on a time-hopping journey from tantrums at dinner to college opera recitals. As Claire and Kayla age, their relationship twists and turns, until, for a brief moment, they end up becoming dangerous giant animals themselves.
The script is engaging, if a little overwritten, and Murdock builds her world on stage pretty convincingly. But I left feeling like there were missed opportunities here. This is a play about intense pain and love and tragedy in the everyday, but Murdock didn't commit fully enough to any of those emotions to take her audience through them with her. The performance is billed as a 'darkly comedic show' but wasn't particularly funny or dark. There are a lot of strong themes touched on in her story that I'd have loved to see further explored. How did this all change her as an individual or as a performer? What profound impacts did Kayla have on what I assume (I could be wrong) to be a relatively 'normal' white, middle class North American upbringing? For me, the character of Claire needs more depth, more light and shade, more questioning of her place in the world and more exploration of the impact that Kayla has had on her.
Murdock ends the play with a question: "why are certain tragedies deemed to be satisfying?" Whilst Dangerous Giant Animals is definitely worth a watch for the fresh subject matter alone, I think this question is really pertinent. The challenge with a piece like this is to find the universal and transcendent in the everyday, and I don't think Murdock quite found it here.