It used to be that rubbish material got rubbish production values, slap your hands together so-there style, be done with it and in no time, gone. Not so much anymore. These days, rubbish material can be handled brilliantly.
The pervasiveness of media awareness, genre sophistication, input from all sorts of traditional and digital sources, has encouraged a generation of artists—well, a faction of a generation—whose impulse is to follow the meta-muse. To riff on familiar tropes in a humorous way. Last season gave us Silence, the unofficial musical lampoon of The Silence of the Lambs; this year comes Triassic Parq, which isn’t a spoof of Jurassic Park per se, but a what-if? What if you told a story about lab-created dinosaurs on the loose from their own perspective?
The musical (book and lyrics by Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz and Stephen Wargo, music by Marshall Pailet) follows a few genre ground rules as faithfully as send-up allows: the dinosaurs have their own mythology to explain how they came to be, who they “answer to” as a higher power (they substitute Lab for God) and have some rude awakenings when they break free of their confinement to find that food isn’t just delivered anymore. (Is it satire-significant that their usual food is a lamb?) But mostly…sigh…it’s a campy sex farce with a good deal of gender reversal, symbolic and literal. At first, the dino herd believe themselves to be all female, but when an infusion of hormones enters their water supply, latent traits are triggered and some of them develop penises. The emerging males are played by women. The men play the females. It’s not the screaming gayfest it may sound like in cold print…but it doesn’t have a lot of macho ballast either.
The songs’ music favor backbeats and hard, primary pulses (what else, right?) and the lyrics are fairly witless, tending to hump a single idea-phease to death (what else, right?). And the book, per the above, is mostly silly.
But here’s the thing. It’s designed wonderfully, in a kind of off-Broadway lo-tek way that’s a budget comment on high-tek. Likewise, the costumes are glitzy, goofy and cheesy fun. (No, there are no B-movie dino-suits; it’s all rather go-native symbolic.) Most importantly…it’s brilliantly directed (ahem, for what it is) also by Pailet; he never misses a sight gag, a way to lampoon the limitations of the scenery, or an opportunity to make sure a “poetic” device meant to engage audience imagination (toward, say, filling in the literal detail of an implied a special effect) is called out as a cheap theatrical stunt…but only after the audience has fallen for it, which also makes the joke our own suggestibility and willingness to play along with corny convention. And commensurately, the cast is extremely hip and very funny. Personal favorites include Lindsay Nicole Chambers as a kind of Super Velocipartor of legend; and Lee Seymour as our guide through the evening: Morgan Freeman. (No, that’s not a typo. He plays Morgan Freeman. I don’t know what the hell Morgan Freeman is playing.)
And like every other meta show of its type, Triassic Parq is exactly as funny as your tolerance for this kind of crap is. If you said to the authors that the emperor has no clothes, they’d likely say, “Well duh. That’s the point.” And when you’re stripping a genre to its nubbin, I guess it is, rather. Personally, I could have lived my life happily without it. But the night I was there, the audience went nuts.
And that, kids, is what makes tyrannosaurus racing…
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