Saturday, February 22, 2020

Guest Review 22 (2019-2020): Review: RIDDLE OF THE TRILOBITES

“A Lot of Learning to Do”***

By Elyse Orecchio (guest reviewer)

I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’d never heard of a trilobite. Worse, I thought it was a made-up term for Collaboration and Flint Repertory Theatre’s production of Riddle of the Trilobites, presented at the New Victory Theater.  
Riddle of the Trilobites. All photos: Alexis Buatti-Ramos.
If you’ve read my reviews, you’ve heard me gush about the educational programming that the New Victory offers prior to each performance. In this case, I had a lot of learning to do alongside my six-year-old companion, Natalie. We got super lucky—Natalie is a dinosaur-obsessed future paleontologist, and the main activity was “digging” for trilobite fossils! She (and I) spent a good half hour learning about these buggy prehistoric creatures that lived in the ocean and are now best known for their fossilized remains, which you can find at the Museum of Natural History.  
Riddle of the Trilobites.
Of course, the rest of our learning happened at the show itself. This musical, written by Geo Decas O’Donnell and Jordan Seavey (book and lyrics) and Nicholas Williams (music), uses exquisite (not to mention adorable) puppetry by Amanda Villalobos to explore this era, which predated dinos, ooga-booga hominids, and anyone else you typically associate with the land before time.  
The stage is a pleasure to look at thanks to some truly transformational lighting achieved by Eric Southern. It’s molting day, and adolescent trilobite Aphra (a delightful Sibiso Mabena) discovers she has markings that set her apart from her fellow creatures. This launches a journey for her and her bestie, Judomiah (a wonderfully animated Richard Saudek), to solve the meaning of the titular riddle: trilobites cannot live but they will not die. Aphra’s realization that the trilobites will live on as rock (fossils) culminates in celebration.

This ambitious production touches on a lot of themes, such as fear of the unknown, climate change, self-discovery, and species extinction. Educational, yes, but it’s a bit much and a bit long. At almost an hour and a half, the young audience at the performance I attended was restless toward the end. 
Riddle of the Trilobites.
While Riddle of the Trilobites perhaps lacks the sophisticated storytelling of The Pout-Pout Fish, another aquatic puppetry musical, seen earlier this season, the script, riddled with dad jokes, gets lots of laughs from young theatregoers. 

Natalie reported that it was the most special day of her life. Okay, she is six and prone to hyperbole, but I can’t overstate the importance of exposing children to good theatre. And now that I know all about the fascinating trilobites, I can’t wait to show off to the troglodytes at my next dinner party. 

New Victory Theater
209 W. 42nd St., NYC
Closes February 23

Elyse Orecchio studied musical theatre at Emerson College, acting at CUNY Brooklyn College, and English Linguistics & Rhetoric at CUNY Hunter College. She has worked in nonprofit communications for more than a decade and lives in Sunnyside, Queens. IG: @elyseorecchio