There’s something about dinosaurs that fosters common ground — children and adults alike are fascinated by the extinct creatures. They’re the stars of the University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies’ production of The Lost World, which draws from a silent film based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel of the same name.
The original novel tells of an expedition to a South American plateau where dinosaurs exist in modern day. Writer/Director Jared Mezzocchi gives this story a twist, situating it in childhood – a time of infinite dreams, when we can create our own reality and anything seems possible.
Twins Oscar (Aidan Walsh) and Olivia (Mikala Nuccio) are struggling to fall asleep one night when their parents (Kristen El Yaouti and Gabriel Macedo) tell them a bedtime story about a land where dinosaurs still exist. Years later, the two of them discover that dinosaurs live under the bed – fantastic, friendly dinosaurs that don’t look quite like the ones in Jurassic Park. Tyler Gunther’s creative designs are crafted from materials that scream “childhood” – from backpacks to paper plates to mittens to cassette tapes. While they may not be biologically accurate, they’re authentic in a different way.
The twins are described as “two sides of the same coin.” Oscar is imaginative, bold and eager to share with everyone about the dinosaurs, while Olivia, striving to fit in, wants to keep their secret private. Their interactions with each other and their classmates – from childhood banter in their shared room to adolescent quibbles at their thirteenth birthday party – are fresh and believable. Sometimes adults playing children can be obnoxious or overzealous, but Nuccio in particular shines with her authentic, heartfelt portrayal of Olivia at several ages.
The nosy reporters (Jessica Cooperstock and Tamar Gasko) that swarm the twins’ house to investigate the “lost world” are over-the-top hilarious; perhaps a commentary on the sensationalism of the modern 24/7 news cycle. Like many of the actors, Martin Thompson performed two roles — Olivia’s teacher, Mr. Malcolm, and the twins’ school bus driver. While these weren’t the biggest roles, Thompson was a standout as both the gruff bus driver and the Chaos Theory-obsessed teacher. The ensemble of schoolchildren is tight and fully engaged, effectively utilizing movement to tell a story with choreography by Adriane Fang.
A beautiful set adorned with books, designed by Lydia Francis, and projections designed by Hannah Marsh and Ian McClain, are easily the highlights of the show. Featuring excerpts from the original short film, home videos of one of the actors, live camera feeds and even a small camera descending into an onstage terrarium, the projections feel like an organic and seamless extension of the action onstage.
The play closes with a baffling twist that only becomes fully clear in the last scene – graduation day of high school – and is a bit hard to fathom. While The Lost World was originally written for a children’s theatre, it’s not necessarily a children’s story. Familiar childhood tropes – a rowdy ride on a school bus, rewards from teachers for good behavior, the scramble to find a partner for a class project – encourage deeper conversations about the dreams we leave behind as we grow up. We might not have dinosaurs under our beds, but we all have our own “lost worlds.”
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission
The University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies’ production of The Lost World plays through February 21, 2015 at the Clarice’s Kogod Theatre – University of Maryland Stadium Drive, in College Park, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.