May 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

Animal rights raise touchy questions in 'Endangered Species'

Victoria Army and Wayne David Parker star in 'Endangered Species.' (Detroit Repertory Theatre)

Self-examination, animal rights and a call girl make for some awkward moments in Tom Baum’s “Endangered Species” at the Detroit Repertory Theatre through June 22.

Over the course of two days, Leon, a philosophy professor, faces his worst nightmare — a student who takes his teachings on behalf of animal rights seriously. His wife, an animal research scientist, pushes him to write his memoirs and look for an assistant to help. A young woman with vegetarian convictions and compromised virtue arrives, followed by a young man with a cause and on a mission. That is when mishaps, subterfuge, duplicity and mayhem go into full effect.

“Ultimately, the show is about being true to your own convictions,” says the play’s director, Harry Wetzel. “The philosophy professor realizes through the course of the events that he may have drifted from his original convictions, and the only path to getting himself and his life back together is turning the mirror on himself and going back to his own initial beliefs.”

What sets the moralistic Leon on a different course are the animal experiments his wife has been conducting — something he knew was occurring but had turned a blind eye to.

“He realizes he’s got to stand up for what he’s always preached and believed in and do the right thing,” says Wayne David Parker, who plays Leon. “I think it’s that way for all the characters in the show, in terms of self-realization of what you’re doing in life and how it affects other people ... being true to yourself.”

While the subject of animal rights may seem to play a heavy role in the production, humor lightens things up a bit.

Take Leon’s much younger wife who believes he is growing senile.

“He knows he’s not,” Parker says. “But he kind of plays along with it because he just doesn't feel like putting up the fight.”

When Bailey, the call girl, enters, Leon assumes she is a respondent to his advertisement for an assistant to help write his memoirs.

“So I don’t recognize this off the bat,” Parker chuckles. “But when I tell her to have a seat and she kind of sexually walks over to sit down, it kind of rattles me a little bit.

“So I’m nervously reacting to that as I continue to write the introduction to my memoir.”

Wetzel adds there also is indirect humor in the relationship of the philosophy professor and his molecular research scientist wife.

“They care about each other very much, but there are inherent conflict of interests between their professions,” he says. “And he’s very much a supporter of animals and animal rights.”

Wetzel believes the four-cast member play may open people’s eyes to what goes on in the corporate research world.

“Animals get the short end of the stick in society,” he shares. “And if you do any reading about what goes on in research facilities, it’s a dreadful life.

“We don’t spell it out horribly, but some very important topics are covered.”

'Endangered Species'

8:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through June 22

Detroit Repertory Theatre

13103 Woodrow Wilson, Detroit

Tickets $17 in advance, $20 at the door

(313) 868-1347

Andrea Daniel is a freelance reporter.