opening shot

Dinosaurs on Vandam Street!

opening shot

Heads up! There are singing, dancing, dinosaurs on Vandam Street, they know where we are, and they’ve discovered the truth! Decidedly NOT a children’s musical, Triassic Parq is a completely engaging musical fable about faith, coexistence, and the march of evolution (featuring the discovery of sex!), little of which will occur to you while laughing fairly nonstop. It’s respite from the heat, vacation from hard news, and complete abdication of responsibility. Go. Take your friends.

Inspired by the 1990 book Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and the 1993 film by Director Steven Spielberg, Triassic Parq (name changed to protect the innocent) offers the dinosaurs’ side of the tale: “dinosaurs eating dissension, digesting despair, and depositing… hope.” (A piano riff ominous of revelation). As amusing as they are, the beasts have lost none of their predatory-ness to cartoon interpretations. Peril, politics, prejudice and pathos feel quite real. Ba-dump-dump. Death is death.

Stewarded by Morgan Freeman (the imposing but Caucasian Lee Seymour), we enter the compound past an electrified gate on an island off Costa Rica. It’s a beautiful day to be a woman/It’s a beautiful day to feel the earth beneath my death claw/ jauntily sings Velociraptor of Innocence (Alex Wise). The whole tribe is female, actually, as human scientists must keep the dinosaurs from procreating outside a controlled environment. (Men and women play the roles.)

Velociraptor of Faith (Wade McCollum) “call me mama,” preparing a birthday dinner for her “special one,” leads the group in prayer to elicit food from the worshipped Laboratory Diety (human scientists) who leave sustenance within a metal hole in the earth. In this case, manna includes a live goat (one of the all time great puppets who bleeds red, silk streamers.) It’s a peaceful existence. T-Rexes (Shelley Thomas and Claire Neuman), who are soulmates, quash their natural imperative by doing yoga with the herbivores. The community is completed by Mime-a-saurus (Brandon Espinoza).

As we’ve learned from both science and faith, however, nothing lasts. Because of some errant frog DNA, T-Rex 2 grows a “child-sized penis.” Not as small as a child’s, the size of a child! While its owner is embarrassed and upset by the ugly, differentiating appendage—“Will you still love me now that the mirror tells me lies?” she asks T-Rex 1—Velociraptor of Faith is afraid. T-Rex 2 is exiled to the jungle where only Faith’s twin sister, Velociraptor of Science (Lindsay Nicole Chambers), whose theories could not be tolerated, preceded her. In search of answers: Why were they exiled? Why am I special? Innocence rips out an electric wire, climbs over the fence, and, joined by her cuddly cow companion (?!) follows T-Rex 2.

“The grass IS greener!”

Answers are found with the help of Velociraptor of Science, T-Rex 2’s incomprehensible need for “a dick fix” (surely one of the funniest raunchy musical numbers ever), and good old mother nature. Stasis-ha! T-Rex 1 arrives with flowers only to find her dear friend in post coital confusion. She storms off in a rage killing and eating humans (never having thought of it before). Mama is confronted. The frog DNA is not finished wreaking havoc. We humans are angry. Blood flows. Identities morph. Relationships adjust. The tribe reforms.

Dialogue is uneven, but always fun and sometimes surprisingly profound. The story zips along without a dull moment. Characters are meticulously drawn. Situations are often a howl. The score, well played by Pianosaurus (Music Director) Zak Sandler and Percuss-a-don Jeremy Yaddow, is a lively combination of rock, R & B, and hip hop with a dash of vaudeville vibe. Sometimes clever, sometimes silly lyrics chant, rhyme, sing and sizzle, secondary to effect and moving the story along. I can’t say I walked out humming “We Are Who We Are (We’re Dinosaurs),” but it worked like a charm at the time. Destiny is a force of invention.

Co-Author/Composer/Director Marshall Pailet has, as Director, created a symphony out of presumed chaos. Flow and pacing are brisk. The piece is liberally peppered with wonderfully realized moments such as Innocence climbing over the fence like an awkward little girl, her separately manifested reflection in a steam, Faith’s conversation with a goat, and the “maturation” of lust. Every character has specific attributes, all are clearly beasts. Moments of emotional difficulty are as adroitly handled as those of buoyant comedy.

Kyle Mullins’ Choreography is exuberant, playful, and aesthetically pleasing. Animalistic elements are skillfully integrated into movement and configuration. Styles coordinate with storyline.

The ensemble is multi-talented and well balanced. Each and every thespian can act, sing move, and dance. Expressions are often priceless. Energy is consistent and palpable. Alex Wise (Velociraptor of Innocence) is adorable. One never questions either his character’s naiveté or the manner in which she adjusts. Tender moments are discovered like four leaf clovers.

Wade McCullum (Velociraptor of Faith) is alternately deliciously reptilian, sweetly maternal, and persuasive on the dark side nature has assigned his character. The actor is 110% present. His speaking voice is plumy. Claire Neumann (T-Rex 2) is hysterical. Rex-2’s battle with his burgeoning testosterone-impelled desires mines comedic gold. Neumann’s acting is filled with small gestures and expressions adding up to audience glee. She makes her character’s plight comprehensible and empathetic.

Brandon Espinoza (Mime-a-saurus) must be fashioned out of rubber. Who can DO that?! The mercurial Espinoza makes as pitch perfect a water reflection (of Innocence) as he does the cuddly cow companion. Every action achieves optimum effect. Also featuring Lindsay Nicole Chambers (Velociraptor of Science), Shelley Thomas (T-Rex 1), and Lee Seymour (Morgan Freeman).

Dina Perez’s Costume Design is simply wonderful. One might call it essence of dinosaur. Cut-outs and patterns, colors and textures, asexuality and then the opposite are stitched together with leg warmers, T-shirts, tights, mini skirts and gloves evoking a bunch of kids pillaging attic trunks as well, somehow, as creatures. Make-up demonstrates a single sex, a single tribe. Even the hairstyles contribute.

Jen Schriever’s Lighting Design is successfully manipulative at every turn. We are warmed, startled, uncomfortable, sad, or oblivious to the unseen hand. Danger is made visceral. Carl Casella & Christopher Cronin’s Sound Design makes a jungle of the theater before an actor takes the stage, continuing to add texture and emphasize incident throughout.

The T-Rex roars are galvanizing.

Photo Credit Carol Rosegg
1. Shelley Thomas, Alex Wyse, Claire Neumann
2. Claire Neumann, Wade McCullum, Shelley Thomas
3. Brandon Espinoza, Alex Wise
4. Wade McCullum, Shelley Thomas, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Claire Neumann, Brandon Espinoza

Triassic Parq- The Musical
By Destiny: Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz, Steve Wargo
Directed by Marshall Pailet
Soho Playhouse
15 Van Dam Street (between 6th & Varick St)

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