Review: “Larvae” at Alchemical Theatre Laboratory

Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

When you think about it, we’re not all that different as human beings. We love, we argue, we solve problems, we grow and evolve, we may feel jealous occasionally, the list goes on and on. For anyone reading this review, I have a hard time believing how that would be a disagreeable assessment of the human race. Less certain, however, is whether these feelings are also felt universally among insects, such as larvae and butterflies. Yet in the new play Larvae, the clear and definitive answer is “yes”.


In this absurdist dramedy by Kelsey Torstveit, who also stars in this new piece, we see two larvae – a male and a female – trying to thrive and have a functional life in a world that’s quite confusing to them. Describing itself as a rendering of the Adam and Eve story, it spends an hour showing how they develop and feel natural desires for the first time, ranging from hunger to sex to the desire to grow, and how they deal and cope with them together.

It’s certainly a unique concept. While it’s not as if there haven’t been stories told before – in theatre, film, and literature – of larvae, caterpillars, butterflies, etc., unless there’s some big example I’m missing or forgetting, they primarily seem to be geared toward children. Not in this case, however. This intelligent, thought-provoking work shows how such insects (one of whom grows and transforms later in the play) might not necessarily be all that different from humans, in that – while there may be some obvious differences – they also feel many of the same emotions, have many of the same needs and desires, are similarly forced to work together to solve problems, and ultimately, feel envious and grow apart from one another in similar fashion.

In terms of the production itself, both Ms. Torstveit and her stage partner, Joe Pietropaolo, prove to be versatile and engaging performers who capture all the emotions the two characters feel in each moment of the show, with vivid and melodramatic energy. In the relatively minimalistic setting at the Alchemical Theatre Laboratory’s studio, the two actors make excellent use of the massive space, and director Will Detlefsen does a very fine job at staging the show, while incorporating plenty of props – as well as smart creative choices regarding the lighting – that make it easier for the audience to forget that they’re sitting in a white studio not unlike one where actors might rehearse…not an easy task, for productions such as this.

One last aspect of this production that’s worth appreciating: According to the show’s program, any audience member who purchases a ticket to this show will also be helping raise money to grow a Willow tree in the Butterfly Garden at the National Butterfly Center in Texas. So not only will theatergoers be treated to a fascinating hour of theatre, but they’ll also be directly supporting a good cause. So if stories of bugs, and the abstract similarities they have to humans, are something that interests you, definitely consider checking this play out during its brief run, while you can.

“Larvae” runs at Alchemical Theatre Laboratory from August 30th-September 2nd. For more information, please visit