REVIEW | Bone Wars in the St. Albert Gazette

Punctuate! Theatre whips up bony truths

Wednesday, Apr 26, 2017 06:00 am

By: Anna Borowiecki


Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaentologists
Punctate! Theatre
Runs until Saturday, April 29
Backstage Theatre
ATB Financial Arts Barn
10330 – 84 St.
Tickets: $25 visit

It takes a great deal to keep eight-year-old boys still. Yet Bone Wars: the Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists just might do the trick.

Playwright Matthew Mackenzie time-travelling saga is filled with mystical magic, original music, contorting movement, dramatic narration, weird characters, and best of all – a cartoonish dinosaur.

Punctate! Theatre’s production starts gently as four 11-year-old dinosaur geeks head off on a fossil hunting expedition canoeing down the Red Deer River with their guide.

But within a few minutes, what starts off as a fun canoe ride, morphs into a violent storm churning up choppy waters. The group is forced to disembark and seek shelter in an abandoned coalmine.

Creating a fog-filled spooky ambiance, set and lighting designer Zsófia Opra Szabó cleverly uses curved metallic bars to simulate a scrubbed mineshaft or if your imagination runs wild – the ribcage of a dinosaur.

For the wannabe dinosaur hunters there is nothing cooler than a temporary lockdown in an old mine. And as they dart from one end to the other, they come across an old dinosaur fossil magnificently embedded in the rock.

But the two girls, Tickallia and Thulasy, in a competitive frenzy over who can accurately identify the bones, accidentally break off a piece.

With a loud banging snap and crackle, the set magically fills with a slightly macabre collection of women dressed in whimsical saloon girl outfits that look as they were borrowed from Catalyst Theatre’s wardrobe collection of Nevermore.

The audience learns the mysterious figures are trapped in a curse. They are doomed to play out their existence in the mine unless the curse is broken.

Existing with them are Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh, two dinosaur bone hunters who, on one hand, dominated science in the 19th century by proving the existence of the extinct dinosaur.

And on the other hand, their real life rivalry led to a sick game of one-up-man-ship that drove them to extremes. The ruinous bone hunters destroyed numerous fossils, lied, cheated and committed bribery to discredit the other scientist.

Mackenzie draws parallels from the Cope-Marsh rivalry to Tickallia and Thulasy’s feuding and leaves it up to the four children to discover a solution that will break the curse.

With over 150 years of scientific bone filching, environmental degradation and climate change to account for, much of the story is told as a narrative.

There are many powerful performances throughout the play. Beth Graham as Morna, leader of the women, sweeps us through history with her crisp, clean diction and authoritative bearing.

And Murray Utas makes an appearance as the fierce looking Sweet William, the buckskin garbed mad trapper who built a house from brontosaurus bones.

St. Albert’s Kristen Padayas as Thulasy is a smart, determined force to be reckoned with in her battle with the feisty Elena Belyea as Tickallia.

Another St. Albert actor Madeleine Knight is in the role of Shimmer, a gal who set off with her family to become rich during the gold rush but only found massive bone beds.

Some of the richest facial expressions of the evening came by way of Leona Brausen (Marsh) and Davina Stewart (Cope). The two duelling comediennes were a delight to watch when even a raised eyebrow, a facial grimace or straight-laced pose spoke volumes.

Ultimately the play encourages people to work collectively to meet their goals – a theme that fits all ages.

Bone Wars runs at the Backstage Theatre until Saturday, April 29.