Survival of the fittest: ‘The Dinosaur Within’

As children weren’t we all once interested in dinosaurs and I mean beyond that purple one named Barney. John Walch takes that childhood fascination and measures it against more adult themes of assimilation, acceptance, love and loss in the mesmerizing Boston Court production of “The Dinosaur Within.”

We first begin with a child, a young boy flapping his arms as if imitating a bird and wishing to be both bird and dinosaur. The young boy, Tommy (Ari Skye), is nervous as he uses 3 x 5 flashcards to make his presentation before the Mid-America Junior Paleontologists. He asks just why did the dinosaurs disappear. Why did the dinosaurs become extinct.

And then, we are introduced to a mystery. A middle-aged woman, Maria (Shauna Bloom)  with short brown hair is fascinated with an article which turns out to also be about dinosaurs. A tall young black man, Eli (Nic Few), admits that he’s someone’s biggest fan as he works a jackhammer. An older woman confined to a wheelchair, Miss Wells (Mimi Cozzens), is filled with regret. An old man with a trim moustache and beard, Worru (VJ Kesh),  is playing a long cylindrical instrument. A middle-aged man, Jerry (Chuck McCollum),  is watching birds. How are all of these people connected to dinosaurs and then to each other?  “Nothing disappears without a trace, not even the dinosaurs,” one character explains.

Yet in real life fathers, sons and lovers and hopes and dreams disappear all the time. Miss Wells clings to her glorious past when her footsteps were enshrined in cement–she had arrived as Hollywood royalty, but this was just before her fall. Worru is the custodian of a sacred path of the Dreamtime and his failure leads to a curse.  Jerry searches for his lost son, seeing him from time to time, but never able to touch him.

Walch leads us through the reality of 2002 in Los Angeles and Australia that has portals to Dreamtime and the Dream Factory in this fascinating, cerebral tale about traumatic loss in the lives of two sets of sons and fathers and one particular daughter and mother. Survival versus extinction, assimilation versus ethnic assassination or obliteration. Or maybe it is a matter of perspective.  Did the dinosaurs really vanish from the face of the earth or did they survive–just in a different form that adapted to the new environment, the new circumstances of the world? In this are their lessons for humans as they build personal myths and slip between the past and present?

Under the direction of Michael Michetti, the Twilight Zone crossing between past and present, reality and dreams isn’t clearly defined and this works well with Worru’s cultural perception and the psychological states of some of the characters. Skye’s Tommy isn’t overly cute or annoying, striking just the right note as both a nervous young boy and a rebellious son and ultimately our guide.

At the end, the mystery is resolved, but that doesn’t mean all the questions are answered. This journey (two hours and 20 minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission)may make you wonder if you too have a dinosaur within you and you’ll probably think twice this Thanksgiving when you or your relatives are fighting over the wishbone.

“The Dinosaur Within” continues until 6 November 2011 at Boston Court, 40 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena. $27-$32. (626) 795-7199.

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