Those involved in The Lost World are proud of their dinosaurs.
The latest play at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, performed Feb. 13 to 21, features a T. Rex on its playbill. The publicity material is heavy on dinosaur references.
There’s a lot of buildup, but when the dinosaurs do appear, they do not disappoint. They may not be the CGI creations by the likes of Steven Spielberg—whose character also makes a cameo appearance in this play—but they are impressive nonetheless.
These dinosaurs are more the stuff of childhood play, each with creative costumes and something of a personality. A Stegosaurus has birthday hat spikes and paper plate skin. A nervous Apatosaurus has a neck of books. A T. rex (or some kind of predatory creature) has a few backpacks for its head and body, and talks about them too.
All this costume work is not only well done and fun to watch, but also fits pretty well with the themes of The Lost World, a play focused intensely on imagination and youth.
An adaptation of the silent film of the same name, which itself was an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, the play takes its source material very loosely. The original book and film follow an expedition to a mysterious plateau in South America where dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals still survive into the modern day.
Jared Mezzocchi, writer and director of the play, takes this less literally. Mezzocchi, an assistant professor at this university, was likely inspired by the strange place dinosaurs hold in the cultural mindset. There is an undeniable association between the “reptiles” and childhood fantasy.
Mezzocchi turns this into a story about belief and imagination, and about kids loving dinosaurs so much that they can actually find them. He also makes a statement about growing up and about extinction not necessarily being absolute endings.
The original story of The Lost World appears most prominently as a bedtime story.
Twins Olivia and Oscar, played by theatre performance majors freshman Mikala Nuccio and senior Aidan Walsh, are unable to sleep, so their parents tell the five-year-olds the story of a land where dinosaurs exist. The parents behave as though they have actually been there themselves. With enough sleep, they say, it’s possible to get there in your dreams.
Later, when Oscar and Olivia hide under their beds, they find themselves transported into a world of dinosaurs where a few people in sheets and elaborate masks lumber around with Triceratops, as a Neanderthal doles out eager massages.
This world becomes a kind of secret refuge for the two, and when they do tell others about their Narnia-like world under their beds, they’re met with scorn and rejection.
The story progresses with the children’s home and classroom life, showing the same kind of loss of belief and imagination. The play is aware of its own silliness.
Students sing a Dora the Explorer-esque chant about important plot elements (Recess! Gold nuggets! Dinosaurs!). At one point, Olivia chides Oscar, saying his contrived plan– once again involving golden nuggets– is stupid, to which he responds with a shrug and an “I know.”
This all builds up to the big metaphor of this play: childhood is a lost world.
To adults, childhood seems to be an extinct thing, fossilized memories, like dinosaurs. However, like Conan Doyle’s mystical land of dinosaurs, this play suggests the world of imagination is a place that still exists, even within the trials of growing up and the responsibilities of adult life.
The production of The Lost World really makes the imagination accessible. The set is engrossing and adaptable. The costumes are convincing, both of dinosaurs and the multicolored and baggy clothes of adolescence. The projections are innovative, the performances are enjoyable and the humor is refreshing.
On the other hand, some lines fall flat. Some moments feel a little too saccharine. Sometimes the progression of the plot didn’t make sense until the very end. But then again, these may just be the minor quibbles of a reporter who feels like childhood has been left behind too long ago. I can’t deny that it was fun to let me imagination go with dinosaurs again.
Joe Zimmermann is a junior English and journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.