How do you cope losing what was never really there to begin with? This is one of the questions Kira Hall explores in her poignant one-woman show, Paleoncology. Presented by Moon Dinosaur Theatre at Artpoint Gallery, Paleoncology, directed by Andrew Young, is a play that, at first, draws audiences in with its humour and charismatic lead, but then proves to be something more earnest under the surface.
Written and performed by Hall, Paleoncology tells the story of twenty-four year old university dropout Lea who has recently moved back home with her parents quitting her job as a waitress. The story unfolds through visits with Tammy, Lea’s therapist. As she reveals more and more to her therapist (and us), we learn about Daniel, Lea’s older estranged brother who has been diagnosed with cancer. Uncertain of Daniel’s future, and her own, Lea finds comfort in her childhood fascination with dinosaurs – and a dinosaur onesie she wears on a day-to-day basis.
Decorated around the stage are various dinosaur toys which Hall puppeteers to re-enact various moments between Lea and Daniel (who we hear over playback). Hall executes these moments masterfully. She matches each word and utterance the characters speak with intricate articulations of the toys, effectively conveying tremendous emotion and feeling to the audience.
And there is plenty of emotion which Hall unearths over the next 55 minutes.
The relationship Hall crafts between Lea and Daniel feels very real. Even when Lea and Daniel challenge each other, Hall makes it clear that there is still love between them. And through the lens of these two siblings who are trying to make amends with their past, Hall is able to ask bigger questions about life like what it all means – the fighting and the resentment – in the grand scheme of things.
While on paper it sounds as though Paleoncology might dip into melodrama, it does not. Hall’s writing is funny, moving, but above all, it feels genuine. The production succeeds in taking a serious topic – terminal illness – and presenting it in a creative, but respectful, manner.
In addition to Hall’s puppetry, Paleoncology also features overhead projections of quirky dinosaur drawings which Lea employs to educate the audience on dinosaurs and prehistoric life. Dramaturgically, while also being fun and informative, they serve the purpose of setting up the action, thematically, for the following scenes.
Artpoint Gallery is a poor performance space for this sort of intimate piece, unfortunately. The gallery sits beside a busy stretch of road where large vehicles pass by. There were some moments where it was difficult to hear Hall over the noise. Hall did her best, however, to compete with the passing vehicles. Certainly this noise is outside of the company’s control, but it did detract a bit from the experience.
Inside, the space is functional. The crew are able to use special lighting and sound cues to full effect to help mark off distinct areas to let us know where we are in the play i.e. Tammy’s office. As well, audience seating is comfortable and spread out.
Ultimately, Moon Dinosaur Theatre’s Paleoncology is an engaging, original production that features a versatile performer and brilliant script that will resonate with audiences.
Moon Dinosaur Theatre’s Paleoncology runs from Aug 1-9th at the Calgary Fringe Festival.
For more information about the show and how to buy tickets, visit: http://see.calgaryfringe.ca/events/442-paleoncology