The Jewel Box Theatre continues the excellent tradition of introducing new playwrights to the scene with premiere performances. This year’s choice is “Excavation” by Rob Barron. Barron is an assistant professor of theatre at City College in New York where he teaches acting, directing and playwriting. He has written and directed several plays and “Excavation” is the first of his plays directed by another. Linda McDonald directs this world premiere in Oklahoma for the Jewel Box Theatre.
“Excavation” tells two stories of dinosaur lovers separated by two centuries and an ocean. Josh Peterson is a recent widower working in security at the Natural History Museum in New York City. His young son, Kenny is still grieving over the loss of his mother and immerses himself in the book about the fossil hunter, Mary Anning. The modern setting is fictional, but Mary Anning is a historical figure.
Mary Anning was born in 1799 and was known as a fossil collector, dealer and paleontologist due to the important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis in Dorset where she lived. She has been largely overlooked in the scientific community due to her lack of formal education, and also because women were not recognized in the scientific community in the early 19th century. Mary was finally recognized for her contributions by the Royal Society in 2010 as one of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. Mary Anning was also noted in her community for the unusual circumstances surrounding a sudden lighting storm during an equestrian show. A neighbor, Elizabeth Haskings, was holding the child Mary when lightning struck killing three women including Haskings. Mary’s survival was miraculous, and interestingly, she blossomed from a sickly toddler to a lively, curious and intelligent girl. She was often referred to as ‘lightning girl’ by those in the community where she searched for fossils to sell as a way of supporting her family.
“Excavation” intertwines her history with the fictional story of Josh and Kenny Peterson as they struggle to survive in a modern world with little support for a suddenly grieving father and son. Barron weaves the two stories together as the characters appear simultaneously and seem to interact on a mental level. It is the dedication of Mary Anning that gives the young boy hope.
Director McDonald uses a simple set that suggests that classical structure of a museum as well as the cliffs and pits of Dorset. The characters are well established with very good performances among the principles as well as versatile multiple cameo parts in the cast.
Mary Anning is played by A’Mari Rocheleau and her performance is excellent. Rocheleau establishes the slight abrasiveness that intelligent women often had to develop during this period yet she tempers Mary Anning’s personality with sensitivity and joy in her work. The role of Josh Peterson is wonderfully done by Chris Briscoe, harried, hapless and hopelessly confused about what needs to be done for his son, Kenny. Kenny is played by Nathan Ferguson and he does an exceptional job of portraying autism which can be devastating even in a mild form. David Burkhart, John Q. Wilson, Todd Murray, Curt Rose and CheyAnne Stickler round out this very competent cast with distinctive characterizations.
“Excavation” shows at the Jewel Box Theatre through December 9, 2012. Tickets are available at the box office by phone Tuesday through Friday afternoons at 405-521-1786. Also, tickets may be purchased on line at www.jewelboxtheatre.org. The Jewel Box Theatre is located at the First Christian Church at 3700 N. Walker in Oklahoma City. “Excavation” is a wonderful choice for families, especially those with exceptional children, and what child is not, after all, exceptional?