Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical
The New York International Fringe Festival Encores Series
When Last We Flew
Theatre's power to transform lives is made explicit — perhaps too much so — in When Last We Flew. Harrison David Rivers's play, which is reprising its Fringe Festival run in the FringeNYC Encores series through September 16, pays undying homage to one work that alters the life of everyone it touches in a small Kansas town: Angels in America. Were Tony Kushner himself to write a play in praise of his own magnum opus (which is returning to New York later this season), he couldn't come up with one more flattering or fawning.
Kushner's play is adored primarily by Paul (Jon-Michael Reese), a black, gay high-schooler who's finding adolescence difficult to navigate with his mom (Karen Pittman) always close by and dad nowhere in sight. In fact, he wants nothing more to lock himself in the bathroom and, uh, "read" all the time. So you can imagine his surprise — and delight — when one day a young girl crashes through the room's ceiling, mirroring the famous finale of Millennium Approaches.
That the girl, named Natalie (Rory Lipede), is an activist in training — she's been kicked out of one school today, and is now working on a second, for questioning the white teachers' racial agendas — is, perhaps not oddly, incidental. But the fact that one actor (Casey Robinson) plays Natalie's would-be lothario and Paul's departed dad, and one actress (Allison Mackie) a swath of quasi-angelic authority figures, isn't. The same is true of the feathers that keep erupting from the strangest of places, or the overall structure that doesn't recall Kushner so much as replicate it.
Just when the play most needs Rivers to provide his own fresh ideas, he falls back on Kushner's and never with a comparably epic effect, and each new occurrence of this strips When Last We Flew of more confidence, until its own voice is far too hollow and quiet to discern. The few glimpses we see of Rivers's own creations — which also include Natalie's rabble-rousing mom (Tamela Aldridge), and Paul's kind-of boyfriend (Christopher Larkin) — are sufficiently tantalizing to fuel the play on their own. But we need to see what makes their story worth telling, rather than being constantly reminded how much worthier Kushner's is.
Colette Robert's no-nonsense production properly emphasizes the collisions of the characters' feelings, and much of the acting (particularly from Robinson, Aldridge, Pittman, and Larkin) is naked, honest, and engaging. All When Last We Flew really needs is the room to unfurl its wings and soar under its own power; it does not need extra help from Kushner — or anyone else.
Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical
Like a science experiment, a musical is as much about follow-through as hypothesis. For a sterling example of a show with a better setup than execution, consider Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical. It does what many great Fringe musicals do: pick a source (in this case, Michael Crichton's science-fiction megahit film and movie) and riff it back to prehistory. Writers Emma Barash, Bryce Norbitz, Marshall Pailet (who also directed), and Stephen Wargo even had the cagey idea of telling the story instead from the dinosaurs' point of view.
Yeah, and...? Good question. As soon as the premise is laid out — by Morgan Freeman (Lee Seymour), no less, in the Samuel L. Jackson role (long story) — it devolves into inanities as the all-female group frets over becoming male and acts out clan rituals and frustrations in frantic choreography (by Kyle Mullins) that looks like the final cast of Cats going into Chicago without first removing their costumes or Gillian Lynne attitudes.
It's funny for a while, particularly given Seymour's stone-serious vocal intonations and the committed performances of the rest of the cast, particularly John Jeffrey Martin as a passionate, faith-minded velociraptor and Brandon Espinoza as a flamboyantly silly and speechless Mime-a-saurus. But because the story barely develops, the 70-minute show ends long after its welcome and its deepest laughs have gone extinct.
Tickets online at FringeNYC Encores Series Tickets