Jurassic puppet 

Dinosaurs at the Center for Puppetry Arts offers the next best thing to hopping a time machine to the Mesozoic Era to scope out the prehistoric reptiles first-hand. When you watch such vignettes as a pair of triceratops making a nest for their new egg, and then a sneaky predator trying to steal it, you feel more like you're seeing a live dinosaur zoo exhibit than a theatrical performance.

Written and directed by Jon Ludwig, Dinosaurs begins with Francine, a frustrated songbird who expresses her wish to be a powerful beast as she rocks out to the song "I Want To Be a Dinosaur." Francine's ancestor, Auntie Archaeopteryx (the missing link between reptile and bird), shows via flashbacks that being a dinosaur wasn't all it's cracked up to be.

The framing device with Francine feels more "Sesame Street" than "The Muppet Show," with Dinosaurs proving not as adult-friendly as some of Ludwig's other shows. The Body Detective and The Plant Doctors were hip while being educational, but Dinosaurs rarely traffics in pop culture references.

Grown-ups may be amused at the play's winkingly simplified approach to evolution: If a fish wants to catch an airborne dragonfly, "all" it has to do is evolve lungs and start breathing oxygen. But the play's strongest moments have no dialogue or lyrics, like a delicate dance of undersea creatures or the dinosaur-eat-dinosaur violence that occurs as the creatures become extinct.

At least John Cerreta's music includes some quirky touches, like the funky beat in a tune sung by sauropods, or the thrashy punk guitars when toothy carnivores vainly try to pierce the hide of an armored ankylosaurus. There's a hint of Devo in "Digging for Dinosaurs," a peppy piece about fossils and paleontology, and the guitar licks from the opening song sound like "Bang a Gong," appropriately enough, by T. Rex.

Dinosaurs runs through June 22 at the Center for Puppetry Arts, 1404 Spring St. Tues.-Fri. 10 and 11:30 a.m.; Sat. 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m.; Sun 1 and 3 p.m. $12. 404-873-3391. www.puppet.org.


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