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Close to the start of the new play at The Theatre at Boston Court in Pasadena, a young boy comes down to the edge of the stage to explain that he has a dinosaur inside him. This, as a part of discussing the paleontological discoveries regarding the evolution of certain dinosaurs into birds.
Indeed, the balance between the extinction of most and the adaptability of a few dinosaurs provides the symbolic underscore to “The Dinosaur Within,” John Walch’s play receiving its premiere at Boston Court. A study of grief and change, it gradually divides its protagonists into those with the ability to adapt and grow, and those destined to fall by the wayside. Still, though these latter may be “dinosaurs,” this does not make them superfluous.
Which is not to say that the resulting arguments are wildly original, though the telling certainly is. Beautifully told and extraordinarily well set, the contention appears to be that becoming a “dinosaur,” at least an irreparable dinosaur, is generational. This would, therefore, amount to an extended ode to the adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” except that the elements of grief these characters contend with prove so compelling.
For Worru, the Aboriginal traditionalist desperate to retain the ritual, culture and sense of place of his people (given an underplayed but distinct presence by VJ Kesh), the losing battle with paleantological poachers, modern society and his own son lead to the ongoing grief. For Miss Wells, the faded, fragile former movie star (a restlessly commanding Mimi Cozzens), the ghost of decisions made to save her career from her own heart’s leanings have crippled her ability to connect with anyone else. And Jerry (a very genuine Chuck McCollum) is stuck, unable to move past his young son’s disappearance and probable death.
Balanced against these, and moving forward in ways their elders cannot, comes a new generation of characters. These thematically center around Tommy (an articulate and amusing young Ari Skye), the disappeared son pushing his father toward reality. Intertwined are the modernized Aborigine with a passion for classic Hollywood (Nic Few), and the disaffected actress’ daughter searching for an emotional foundation (an edgy Shauna Bloom).
The articulation of these journies, aided by a host of officials, family members and ghosts of the past (Rebecca Tilney, Scott Alan Smith and Emily Kosloski) is what proves compelling. As each struggles between the call toward a rueful and static life and the necessary changes of personal progress, one cannot help but empathize with both the difficulty of change and the mourning one goes through for a past one cannot repair.
Still, the theme behind “The Dinosaur Within” is hardly an earth-shattering revelation. On the other hand, infused with Aboriginal belief systems, set by director Michael Michetti in Francois-PIerre Couture’s ethereal collection of levels and projections, it celebrates the spiritual even as it moves its more adaptive characters forward into the practical present.
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.
What: “The Dinosaur Within: When: Through November 6, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, understudy performances 8 p.m. Oct 17 and 19 Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor in Pasadena How Much: $32 general, $27 students/seniors Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.bostoncourt.com