A few strategically placed Styrofoam boulders sprouting sprigs of vegetation, a backdrop of lonely sun-scorched slopes and a very eager tour guide are the spare but effective means through which First Stage's TheDinosaur Play shuttles its audience back to the Jurassic period. The imaginative leap required by the play's quick transition from present to prehistory won't be too taxing to all but the Sarah Palin types (who may be inclined to take the abridged time lapse too literally). The audience attending Saturday's early performance certainly handled it well, and joined in the cast's antics with gusto.
The play is part of First Stage's "First Steps" series aimed at introducing younger children to the theater through interactive productions where stomping your feet and yelling out are encouraged rather than prohibited. The seating arrangement is intimate and informal, and audience complicity is key. Here their exertions are directed at a large dinosaur egg that occupies center stage. As our buoyant tour guide (Beth Mulkerron) is whizzed back in time she stumbles upon the egg and engages in a quest to find it a mother and father, thus completing the ideal family unit (clearly the single-parent dinosaur family was considered too risqué for 3- to 6-year-olds).
The cast of characters includes a soldierly Triceratops played by Rick Pendzich and a ponderous Apatosaurus played by Alison Mary Forbes, who does a commendable job of braying mournfully in lieu of speech. The bonding ritual she enacts with the newly hatched baby dinosaur offers the requisite dose of sentimentality, and is complemented by bouts of danger supplied by a roving, hungry T. rex. Luckily the pint-sized danger doesn't outgrow its pint-sized audience.
The Dinosaur Playruns through March 1 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center.