Dinosaurs | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader
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Powertrap Productions, at the Organic Theater Company Greenhouse.

Someone should have told Chicago playwright Kay Kudukis that she didn't need to move to Los Angeles to write for television--she was already doing just that in her first play, Dinosaurs. Three down-on-their-luck types in a lonely roadside diner in the American southwest (stunningly realized by designer Susan Pope) fall together, fall apart, and move on, all under the watchful eye of the endlessly earthy diner owner Cornelia. And if you can't predict nine-tenths of the play from this brief description, you haven't watched TV or set foot in an American theater in three decades.

In the first act Kudukis sticks to a risk-free mass-entertainment formula, trotting out cliche after cliche--the diner is doomed, for example, because the state wants to build a highway there. Though she digs a little deeper in the second act, pushing her characters into unpredictable emotional territory, she rarely misses an opportunity to reassure us that everything will be fine in the end. And by the last scene, everyone has encouraged everyone else to keep on keepin' on because, like a burn, "pretty soon it won't hurt so bad."

If anyone could stake her claim in Hollywood it's actress Elizabeth Acerra, who plays the newly widowed Cecilie with the kind of wit, intelligence, and unwavering focus that have made Helen Hunt a star. One of the most efficient actors in Chicago, Acerra never wastes a moment onstage, always setting the pace for the rest of the cast. If she doesn't have her own star vehicle in two or three years, it'll only be because she hasn't tried.

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