Bryce Norbitz, and Steve Wargo
Music by Marshall Pailet
Co-directed by Tommy Bullington
and Nicholas Reinhart
Choreography by Nicholas Reinhart
Music Direction by Justin Harner
Produced by Circle Theatre
At Heartland Studio, Chicago
A Frivolous, Dinosaur Romp
After 28 years of residing in Forest Park, Circle Theatre inaugurates its first season in Chicago proper and its 30th season overall with Marshall Pailet’s Triassic Parq, a coming-of-age, musical comedy – of dinosaurs. While complete with your typical musical fare of spontaneous flights into singing and dancing, Triassic Park bears the distinguishing marks of its contemporary youth culture in its parodic treatment of musical theatre and pop culture and its indulgently witty sense of humor. Unfortunately, too much like the youth culture it embraces, it is a vacuous whirlwind of sophomoric jokes and ideas presented as clever, but truly without substance.
Triassic Parq is about a community of all-female dinosaurs in Jurassic Park – a name, the chorus sings, they were not allowed to use in the title for obvious legal reasons. One day, within the electrical confines of their world, T-Rex 2 (Neala Barron) spontaneously mutates and sprouts a “dude stick.” Having no experience or conception of “penis,” let alone “male,” the confused but curious Velociraptor of Innocence (Park Guidry) approaches the leader and priestess of the group, Velociraptor of Faith (Jacob Richard Axelson), hoping she may have some answers. Although she is the intercessor between the dinosaurs and their god (the Lab who spawned them) and the apparent source for all knowledge, Faith uses her self-proclaimed powers of distraction and persuasion to dissuade the inquisitive young dinosaur woman from inquiring further.
Velociraptor of Innocence refuses to accept ignorance, however, and decides to break through the electrical fence to seek out Faith’s estranged sister, the Velociraptor of Science (Marissa Druzbanski), who, due to her heretical beliefs, was ostracized by Faith long ago. After a rap in which she breaks down the essence of scientific inquiry into pithy rhyme, Science shows Innocence a textbook on anatomy to answer her questions. Satisfied, Innocence wanders back to the electrical confine to find T-Rex 2 in the throes of testosterone-fueled desire. Intellectual awakening then meets sexual awakening, and the union, as we see by the end, means the dawning of a new era for the dinosaur community.
It’s difficult to know where to start with a play like Triassic Parq because it is incredibly juvenile in its humor and storytelling but, like most adolescents, has intellectual pretentions. One does not know whether to take its description of being an “unflinching meditation on faith, science and love” as ironic or sincere. After all, the play rarely pauses from its attempt to amuse (though it is funniest when it is not trying so hard). Judging, however, by the few moments in which its steady stream of comedy does pause for the play to put on its ‘serious face’ – the most feeble being its concluding message of “community” – Triassic Parq must honestly believe it offers something to meditate upon. In which case, it is sadly mistaken.
The play’s abrupt, sentimental moments inspire no emotion whatsoever, but only serve to rouse the audience from its mindless immersion in comedic entertainment to then unsettle them with the play’s underlying lack of substance. In this respect, Triassic Parq is the quintessence of my generation: a pseudo-intellectual mish-mash of metaphysical ideas reduced to pop culture bites, danced around casually with wit, and tied together with the cloying refrain of “community” – which, as I stated above, is the saccharine “moral” of the play: Religion is lies, science is useful, and our future lies in the enduring concept of “community.” And as for offering a meditation on “love,” a Hallmark film would offer more on which to ruminate.
What is truly sad, however, is the amount of effort that has evidently gone into the production of this silly play – which effort, I feel, would have been served better in a better play. Jimmy Jagos, the set designer, does an impressive job in transforming Heartland Studio’s shoebox into a dynamic environment for the story to breathe. As for the cast, they all embrace their roles with infectious enthusiasm, and their singing, accompanied by the live, three-piece band (Justin Harner, Jeremiah Benham, and Danielle Davis), was audibly enjoyable to my Rock-inclined ears. But special commendation I think goes to Patrick Stengle as the Mime-A-Saurus: dressed in a one-piece and painted like a jester, his contorted facial expressions and body language are so perfectly comical and fascinating that I eagerly anticipated his every gesture.
If Triassic Parq had not tried to fool itself with its empty encroachment upon serious thought, it would have been successful as an absurd dinosaur romp. Yet, as it is, the most enthusiastic and diligent production in the world could not redeem it from becoming what it essentially is: an ironic parody of itself. Appealing to a juvenile taste in humor, Triassic Parq aims for the minds and funny bones of its 20-to-30 year old audience, dulling the former, and tickling a bit the latter.
Playing at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $20 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and $23 on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. For tickets and information, visit CircleTheatreChicago.com. Performances are Wednesdays thru Sundays at 8 p.m., with no show September 27th and two shows Monday September 21st and 28th. Through October 4 (closing performance at 2:30 p.m.). Running time is 85 minutes with no intermission.