The Dinosaur Within: Review Rundown

The Dinosaur Within, by playwright John Walch at Boston Court in Pasadena, is built around paleontology and coincidence.

Let’s start with the Paleontology. What is it? Here’s a quick definition: Paleontology is the study of prehistoric life. As a ‘historical science,’ it tries to explain the past. Remember that last part because it’s going to come in handy in a minute.

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Gorgeously directed by Michael Michetti, this ambitious drama weaves three mysteries, ingeniously linking celebrity handprints in Hollywood with the sacred tracks of a dinosaur in Australia. Middle-aged Maria (Shauna Bloom) struggles to find an identity apart from her long-lost father and movie-star mother, Honey (Mimi Cozzens in the present, Emily Kosloski in flashbacks); Aussie Eli (Nic Few) abandons Aboriginal tradition (embodied by his father, played by VJ Kesh) to make it big in L.A.; newspaper editor Jerry (Chuck McCollum) can’t recover from the sudden disappearance of his son, Tommy (Ari Skye), 10 years ago.

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Suggesting the rift valleys that often mark tectonic plate boundaries, Francois-Pierre Couture’s brilliant set for The Theater at Boston Court’s new production divides the stage into two elevated performance areas connected by a land bridge. On one side, atop a Plexiglas floor through which we see a portion of Graumann’s iconic courtyard, aging film star Honey Wells (Mimi Cozzens) lives out her final years lost in memories of past glory.

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This play will not leave you comfortable. Still, the intimacy inherent in dealing with loss, along with this play’s contentions regarding the futility of holding on to traditions, is bound to inspire rich discussion.Sometimes being forced to face one’s own preconceptions is inspiration in itself.

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Tommy (a show-stealing Ari Skye) is a sweet nerd whose speech to the Junior Paleontology Association serves as the string that ties together three stories of loss. Honey Wells (Mimi Cozzens), a fading actress haunted by her past, repeatedly watches footage of the day she stepped into her square at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. A construction worker drilling on Hollywood Boulevard, who left his aboriginal father in Australia due to an obsession with Honey and his desire to be an actor, meets her daughter, Maria (Shauna Bloom). Maria, who stares at her mother’s star looking for a clue to her own history, reads a story her former journalism professor wrote about an aborigine who claims dinosaur tracks were stolen from his people. The journalist is struggling with the loss of his son, an unsolved mystery that tortures him. On paper, the stories are all intriguingly interconnected, but most characters are portrayed as being so self-absorbed and single-mindedly possessed that it’s difficult to drum up much sympathy for any of them. Maybe that was director Michael Michetti’s point. Thanks to a society that increasingly makes it more convenient to interact with laptops than with flesh and blood, most of us power selfishly through our lives, barely acknowledging the existence of others in the same struggles. As a wooden reconciliation takes place onstage, one has to wonder: Will relationships become extinct next? The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 6. (626) 683-6883,bostoncourt.com. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

As ever, indeed, the production speaks its own theatrical language.  With a hyper-realistic script, design that leaves us feeling equally post-modern as pre-historic, and circumstances that jump from relatable to unbelievable, it’s impossible to walk away and file this play under the usual mental categories.  While the final product falls short of living as a cohesive and polished piece of theatre, the work continues the legacy of Boston Court and affectively challenges the status quo of Los Angeles theatre.

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An aging, wheelchair-bound 1960s movie goddess longs for a return to past glories. Her greatest fan, a young Australian aborigine hoping to break into the movie biz in Hollywood, still mourns the death of his two older brothers to suicide. A newspaper reporter remains incapable of recovering from the disappearance of his ten-year-old son years before.

The lives of these three disparate characters intersect in both “The Dreamtime” and “The Dream Factory” in John Walch’s powerful, engrossing, deeply moving The Dinosaur Within, now getting its most major production to date at Pasadena’s Theatre @ Boston Court under the inspired direction of Michael Michetti.

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Francois-Pierre Couture’s clean and clever scenic design showcases the historical layers at play: the actors tread upon a dense historical record, from dinosaur fossils to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The projected backgrounds – ranging from colorful Australian skies to 1950s film clips – are sometimes cluttered, but Leah Piehl’s crisp costumes are wonderfully rooted in character and era.

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It is, at root, the story of six seemingly unrelated individuals: a boy giving a speech at a Junior Paleontology conference; an Australian Aboriginal man who believes he is under a curse; a young woman ripping through newspapers; a man who can’t sleep; a construction worker obsessed with old Hollywood; and an old woman in a wheelchair. Finding out how these characters’ paths are ultimately related is the hook that attempts to draw you into their story.

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[reviews are added to the rundown as soon as they are published]

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