The Jewel Box Theatre continues its tradition of introducing new playwrights to the scene with premiere performances. This year's choice is Rob Barron's “Excavation.” Barron is an assistant professor of theater at City College in New York where he teaches acting, directing and playwriting. Linda McDonald directs this world premiere for the Jewel Box.
“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.
She 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.
Anning was finally recognized for her contributions by the Royal Society in 2010 as one of the 10 British women who have most influenced the history of science.
She 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 Anning as a child when lightning struck killing three women, including Haskings.
Anning'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 Anning's dedication that gives the young boy hope.
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 principals as well as versatile multiple cameo parts in the cast.
A'Mari Rocheleau's Anning is excellent. She establishes the slight abrasiveness that intelligent women often had to develop during this period yet she tempers Anning's personality with sensitivity and joy in her work.
Josh Peterson is wonderfully done by Chris Briscoe — harried, hapless and hopelessly confused about what needs to be done for his son.
As Kenny, Nathan Ferguson 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.
— Elizabeth Hurd