Written by Dan Giovannoni and directed by Bridget Balodis with a fantastic staging in Red Stitch’s Actors Theatre, Jurassica is an emotionally moving theatrical delight that examines one family’s migration experience from Italy to Australia. Written mostly in English and partially in Italian, Jurassica is a play that at a two-hours length manages to keep you continually invested in its world and characters.
This is quite a feat in itself, given Jurassica’s core structural backbone of seamlessly moving between different timelines and perspectives, as we bear witness to Icarus, (the father) and his take on the story played by a consistently enthralling Jordan Fraser – Trumble, as well as Ralph, the grandfather, performed by Joe Petruzzi with deep nuance, empathy and believability. This structure, combined with the alternations between English and Italian and the factor that director Bridget Balodis has each of the actors play younger versions of their characters at different stages in their lives might sound like a confusing prospect, but Jurassica pulls it off effortlessly. It’s an entertaining mechanic that keeps the piece feeling alive and vibrant and the use of Italian is always beautiful and never alienating to those who may not speak it.
Helping to solidify Jurassica’s place as a work of quality theatre are strong performances also from Edward Orton as the turbulent son of Icarus, Luca, Devon Lang Wilton as Luca’s smart and artistic mother and Caroline Lee as Sara, Ralph’s loving wife. Each portrays their characters with great precision and subtlety, demanding your empathy at different points in the play and only come more alive with the script’s beautifully realistic dialogue. Also worthy of note is Olga Makeeva’s turn as Kaja, a bitter interpreter caught up in a tragic event regarding the family, who provides some very welcome comic relief.
With only a very tiny space, Balodis uses it extremely effectively with a set that not only adds symbolic tones to the piece but also can seamlessly transform into different locations without any clumsy stage management or blacks outs. These ‘transformations’ are only aided by the fact that the lighting of Jurassica easily places each scene in its own time and place and therefore a transition in the play is never confusing. One ‘dream’ sequence in particular, is lit in a terrifically haunting manner.
Jurassica also has a fairly minimal sound-scape, with the exception of a highly intriguing opening, there’s no abundance of sound-tracks here and the play neither benefits or comes undone as a result of this decision. If there is one thing holding Jurassica back however, it’s the familiarity of its story. If one has ever seen or read other migration stories such as Growing Up Asian In Australia (Alice Pung), many of the elements and plot angles will be quite well- known. Which is to say, as far as plot goes, Jurassica seems to operate more in distinct ‘slices of life’ rather than one continues linear plot line. This is no hindrance to it, but its exploration of the son who can’t communicate with his grandfather and the father suffering from marriage issues are all tried and true conventions of domestic drama that perhaps just aren’t quite revitalised enough as they could be in Jurassica. None the less, the empathetic, well-drawn characters, despite perhaps being a little too archetypal, make up for this.
Similarly, the rest of Jurassica works on such a profoundly polished level, that the familiarity of the story is ultimately over-ridden by professional, captivating performances and economical but always effective directing.