Triassic Parq, the Off-Broadway musical currently running at the Soho Playhouse in New York City, is outrageously creative right down to its Playbill: a mock tabloid covering the more uncouth side of dinosaur culture. Flipping through the stories of abandoned baby plesiosaurs and pterodactyls in the Adirondacks before the campy madness began, I suspected it was going to be impossible to not love this show. As famed chaos theorist Ian Malcolm would say, “Boy, do I hate being right all the time.”
From the narration by a fake Morgan Freeman, to the identity crisis of a spontaneously male T-Rex, to the battle between faith and science as personified by velociraptors, this over-the-top adventure hits it out of the (Jurassic) park. It is the story of the famed 1990 Michael Crichton novel and the 1993 Steven Spielberg film adaptation, with one major twist: we observe the unfolding of the calamitous Isla Nublar Incident from the perspective of the dinosaurs.
Who would’ve guessed that while Ian Malcolm and John Hammond were debating the true nature of discovery, the soon-to-be-freed dinosaurs were embroiled in their own philosophical battles? That while B.D Wong condescendingly asks, “You’re implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will… breed?” that somewhere out in the park, a female T-Rex discovers with horror that she is no longer a she? High drama ensues, along with the practically transcendent rhyming of “he/she’s” with “species.”
It is the Velociraptor of Faith (Wade McCollum) who has come to rule supreme over her fellow carnivores, promising that all answers are to be found in religious ritual. She preaches the word of Lab, a heavenly place in which humans create dinosaurs, a place that must be worshipped lest the yields of tied up and farm animals stop magically appearing in the dinosaurs’ pens. But when T-Rex 2 (Claire Neumann) is banished for disrupting the harmonious community with her sudden sex change (that pesky frog DNA!), our heroine, the Velociraptor of Innocence (Alex Wyse), finds Faith incapable of answering her deepest questions. She goes in search of the banished one, the aggressive and captivating Velociraptor of Science (Lindsay Nicole Chambers). Hold onto your butts!
The show is dizzying and hyperactive, with miniscule regard for narrative cohesion. It is an equal opportunity employer of both groan-inducing and unexpectedly clever jokes, and while some songs fall flat, others—like the comically ominous opening, “It’s a Beautiful Day to be a Woman”—are show-stoppers. But this inconsistency fails to ruin the charm of Triassic Parq’s insane premise and the actors’ unrelenting commitment to their roles. Claire Neumann is inspired as T-Rex 2, conveying the increased testosterone that has accompanied her gender switch with much eye-twitching and adolescent yearning. Lindsay Nicole Chambers’ Velociraptor of Science monopolizes the stage during her ode to science, channeling both the ferocity of a raptor and the unapologetic grandeur of the scientific method. Alex Wyse is hilarious throughout as the Velociraptor of Innocence, expressing both the character’s optimism and reptilian nature with lines like, “we can swim with the dolphins/ and eat the dolphins” as well as her repeated self-reminders not to touch the electric fence.
From the irreverent “Turn off your cell phone” announcement at the beginning to the riff on John Williams’ theme song at the end, Triassic Parq is as merciless with fun as the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are with lawyers. It’s very encouraging that such a weird nerdgasm of a show has even made it to an Off-Broadway run. Then again, when it comes to the exploits of dinosaurs, life always finds a way.
Triassic Parq runs until August 5th, 2012 at the Soho Playhouse in New York City.