In poetry, a volta is a rhetorical shift or dramatic change in thought or emotion. In a Shakespearean sonnet, for example, the volta comes just before the final couplet—with a few exceptions—leading to a revelation or epiphany. If Extinction—currently in performance at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall—were a Shakespearean sonnet, its second act, with the introduction of two Atlantic City working girls, Missy (Brynne Kraynak) and Victoria (Raye Levine), is the third quatrain; the penultimate minutes would be the volta—the sudden, dramatic shift paving the way for the final three or so minutes—a heart-wrenching, emotional ending which you won’t see coming. Bravo to playwright Gabe McKinley for that.
Extinction is a darkly funny drama in which two best friends since college, Finn (Sawyer Spielberg) and Max (Eric Svendsen, who, in the opinion of this reviewer, stole the show with his powerful and true-to-life portrayal of a 30-something, single, stereotypical bro-type, traveling pharmaceutical salesman) come to Atlantic City to spend a lot of money and to blow off just as much steam on an annual male bonding weekend.
We learn early that Max’s mother has recently succumbed to cancer, a fact Max later laments as he, a pharmaceutical salesman who can essentially cure anything from heartburn to athlete’s foot, can do nothing against the powers of that disease. Finn, currently enrolled in Columbia University’s PhD in Literature program, confesses that his mother’s business venture—the Max-maligned Munch Box—has gone under, taking Finn’s entire savings with it. It’s 2007 and the U.S. financial crisis has just hit and now he can no longer afford Columbia’s exorbitant tuition. Will Max help out? Is that why Finn agreed to this reunion in Atlantic City, despite the fact he has, as he says, grown up and is now unwilling to spend the weekend snorting coke and chasing women? He has a baby on the way, after all.
A baby!? Max is surprised but unperturbed. Finn is insistent that he not do drugs or drink and that he stay true and honest to the baby’s mother. Max: “There’s nothing honest about monogamy.” It is his philosophy that as men, he and Finn must fight and fuck in order to survive in the world, and all he wants is one more weekend—to party with Finn. Little do either of them know it will veer precipitously off course. Enter Missy and Victoria, the aforementioned working girls. Missy is semi-pro, which is to say she’s done this before. Victoria, perhaps still starry eyed after arriving in the “The City” from North Carolina is hesitant, but needs the money. Finn, also hesitant, is convinced to let go of his inhibitions. Booze flows, coke is snorted, money is thrown around. Never a good combination. As their night progresses another secret is revealed, which leads to another secret, which, really, is the volta, which brings us to the last few minutes. As noted before, if you said you saw it coming, you were lying.
Extinction contains graphic language and adult content including the smoking of herbal cigarettes on stage. If those types of things offend you, Extinction might not be your cup of tea, as you’ll be seated on the stage, theater-in-the-round, voyeur-style, an intimate part of all the debaucheries taking place. Speaking of the stage, what a set: connected hotel rooms, one upstage, one downstage, the action taking place, at times simultaneously, in both.
So get out to Guild Hall and laugh at all the inappropriate times during this hour-and-a-half long emotional rollercoaster ride.
See Extinction at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton through April 16. Call 631-324-0806 or visit guildhall.org for tickets and more information.