(Please note, this is about a New York production, not a Philadelphia one. You were warned.)
Satire, parody, farce, they all have their issues, don’t they? Like naughty school children they can both amuse and infuriate, driving their audience to madness, or worse, to drama. But they are, of course, the workhorses of comedy. Sarcasm is like coffee, absurdity a fine wine we enjoy on a rare weekend, situational comedy and stand-up our lean meats and chicken breasts, but the bawdy three forms listed above are our bread and butter, and we eat them more regularly they we might care to admit. That being said, they are all three rather difficult to do well. Perhaps this is because they are done with such mind-numbing regularity that we see more bad iterations of them then good. But when a good parody comes along, or better still, a comedy that masquerades as a parody but actually has no problems shedding its source material like a phoenix rising from the ashes and ascends into sheer silliness and sublime stupidity, well, one should really stand up and take notice, now, shouldn’t one?
And that’s what we have with Triassic Parq: The Musical, a rollicking, ridiculous, ranchy and rapacious ride through the Triassic period, as seen through the lens of the iconic dinosaur film Jurassic Park (or is it?), book and lyrics by Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz and Stephen Wargo and directed by Pailet, who also composed the music . Beginning with a gently mesmerizing monologue declaimed by Morgan Freeman (played by white man Lee Seymour in some color-blind casting), we learn that the Q stands for Truth (and not for “we’re going to get sued by the filmmakers”). But what is the truth? Is it that gender roles are socially enforced rather than intrinsically created? That communities which live by sheer conformity and discouragement of critical independent thinking are doomed to failure? That dinosaurs are kick-ass dancers and singers? Yes. To all of the above.
This musical jumps the shark off the original premise, i.e. that there is an island somewhere where dinosaurs have been brought back to life vie mosquito DNA and a bit of frog thrown in there (just to complicate the issue), and that these dinosaurs are all ladies, just to make sure they don’t reproduce, and are fed endless streams of goats (sounds delicious) by benevolent scientist overlords who plan on exhibiting said extinct creatures in a zoo-like format. But instead of worrying about the silly humans, the story centers around the large reptiles and their 99 problems. Specifically, this little religious cult (all praise the Lab, giver of goats), led by a charismatic Velociraptor of Faith (a spandex and tunic clad Wade McCollum) are all, of course, sisters of the earth and keepers of each other’s wind and all that girl-nonsense. Strutting the stage in leggings and uggs, converse and bias-hemmed skirts, it’s like a Forever 21 exploded all over Dina Perez’ excellent costume design, contrasting these dinos with Morgan Freeman’s austere and classy white suit. The only nod made to the physicality of these long-dead creatures are the “claws” created by cut up gloves, but somehow it doesn’t matter all that much, as the violently colorful eye make-up and wild updos give us enough of a hint that this is either a dinosaur musical or Williamsberg on a Saturday night. With cardboard trees and vines, Caite Hevner’s clever scenic concept neatly uses the tiny space of the Soho Playhouse and allows the actors maximum playing room, as well as incorporating the audience in some downright deliriously funny ways, and Jen Schiever’s lights make you feel like you’re inside Studio 54, which is inside of a rainbow, which is inside of a spotlight, and it’s excellent. With onstage piano (Zak Sandler, also the music director) and percussion (Jeremy Yaddaw), this small group packs quite a punch, musically and visually.
So after some toe-tapping opening numbers, the central crisis of the plot is quickly revealed. T-Rex 2 (Claire Neumann) who is, of course, BFFs with T-Rex 1 (Shelley Thomas) all of a sudden from out of the blue grows herself a penis. Why, you might ask? Well, in certain frog populations when there is a population crisis female frogs will grow male genitalia to be able to populate the species and fulfill their genetic imperative (as the kids are calling it these days). But these dinosaurs, excellent singers and dancers that they might be, aren’t exactly down with biology, especially given that they are creationists, so T-Rex 2’s surprisingly elegant phallus is treated by one and all as a shocking occurrence, and she is banished from the tribe without so much as a by your leave, much to the distress of T-Rex 1 and the consternation of the gentle Velociraptor of Innocence (Alex Wyse), who is just having one hell of a birthday. You with me so far? Excellent.
So with a power duet (which Thomas and Neumann just dominate, by the by) T-Rex 2 and her/his new appendage leave the tribe in shame (which…I mean, they are, presumably, in a large but enclosed area, so who knows where she actually GOES, but let’s not look for logic in crazytown, okay?). But Velociraptor of Innocence can’t simply let go and let God, not just because she’s a highly evolved predator and one of the smartest dinosaurs ever to roam the earth (see, it’s a learning adventure!) but also because the plot needs to move itself along, and so she can’t help but question the decision made by the Velociraptor of Faith and supported by the tribe, which, by the way, includes a miming dinosaur (Brandon Espinoza). But when even the gentlest of questions sparks anger on the part of the Velociraptor of Faith, the Velociraptor of Innocence knows that it must escape their electric-fence enforced paradise of blind obedience, and seek out Velociraptor of Science (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) to unravel the secrets of this whole “penis” thing. And unravel she does, with a biology textbook and a school-house-rock-on-crack style rap that underlines the scientific method and would cause a brothel-madame to blush.
One mustn’t give the whole plot away, and besides, its far too complicated to describe without hand gestures and strong drinks, but suffice to say, the tribe, led by the Velociraptor of Innocence, must put aside it’s differences and work as one heterogeneous group to…well, I’m not really sure what they actually accomplish, but hey, at least they did it together while learning some important lessons about tolerance, unity, love and the scrotum. That’s all that matters, right?
So yes, the plot, it is not, shall we say, cohesive, or even coherent most of the time, and yes, the writing is so sharp it keeps cutting itself, so self-consciously cleverly stupid that at times it holds up a large sign and says, look, did you see what I just did there? Wasn’t it great? And sure, the comedy does rely on a hell of a lot of deadpanned lines and sexual puns dropped like anvils onto the stage. But all that aside, its simply some of the most fun I’ve seen an audience have in a show, any show, in a long time. It’s inclusive on a very fundamental level, which is a Herculean task for a musical that takes as it’s source material a film not everyone is deeply familiar with. Should you gasp at that statement, consider this, I myself have never actually seen Jurassic Park, and the reality is, that didn’t matter one iota. I got the jokes, I figured out the story, I wasn’t excluded by my ignorance or made to feel left out of the loop. This show is just pure lunatic fun, from its opening lines to its closing number, and it begs you, implores you, demands you to have fun too. It’s generous and kind to its audience, shocking them with graphic jokes, to be sure, but also guiding them through this twisted tail and urging them to enjoy the ride.
Beautifully paced by Pailet at a breakneck speed and gorgeously choreographed by Kyle Mullins, the piece lives on energy, and it is amply fed by its marvelous cast. For such a large cast of such young performers, there is not a single weak link onstage. These actors are immensely talented work horses with the bodies of gazelles, leaping and gliding, sweating through their make-up and hair-spray, but making every single silly moment work. Thomas and Neumann are more than adorable as best friends torn apart by a gender shift, and Neumann especially makes the transition from female to confused shemale to sex starved hemale with hilarious ablomb. Wyse’s naive yet determined young dinosaur echos Disney’s Hercules in a heart-tugging way, and Chambers is utterly fearless in every role she takes on during the course of the show. Espinoza makes more than one could have ever imaged out of a role that isn’t particularly necessary to the story, and McCollum is perfect as the mama-bear/preacher who just wants to be loved, herself. And then there is Seymour’s Morgan Freeman, which is just creepily perfect and riddled with Samuel L. Jackson jokes and crotch grabs. Oh, and did I mention that they all can sing? Really really painfully well? They can. And dance. It would be annoying if it wasn’t so fun to watch.
There are those who might wish to levy criticism on this piece because of the light, almost frivolous manner in which it deals with gender and sexuality. And hey, that’s fair enough, it certainly might not stand up to all that much in a woman’s studies class at Sarah Lawrence. But it is my personal opinion that this musical doesn’t seek to trivialize these important topics, but rather, to discuss them in a way that pokes fun at orthodox ways of thinking, and warns that homogeneous behavior of any kind is limiting and exclusive, and leads to paranoia and fear of the other. And we can’t live in fear of each other, not if we want to survive. (Unless, of course, you’re a human, in which case you should probably live in fear of dinosaurs, but you should fear them all equally as much, otherwise you’re being pretty prejudiced, and that’s not good.)
Or you could just go to have a good time. That’s allowed, too. Triassic Parq: The Musical runs from now until the 5th of August. Tickets are available here.