Is oil really made of dinosaur bones? You’ve heard the expression, but have you stopped to consider whether the liquid in your gas tank actually came from a long-dead Apatosaurus?
In their new touring show Apocalyptical, which is all about endings, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, hosts of the popular NPR show Radiolab, talk a lot about dinosaurs. From a hotel room in Houston, where they’re looking out at a skyline built by oil rigs, the duo explains that your car runs on ancient plankton. “It’s mostly little swimmy things in shallow seas, but occasionally dinosaurs fell in,” Krulwich says. “Think of it like a martini—that little bit of vermouth is the dinosaur bones.”
Abumrad and Krulwich’s radio show, sort of a This American Labtech broadcast from WNYC, explores questions like why Kenyans rule the sport of long-distance running and how quicksand works. The show’s style—distinctive quick cuts that insert the hosts’ asides like parentheticals, and electronic flourishes recalling a Nova documentary—has earned it heaps of acclaim. The live stage adaptation, meanwhile, changes every night but generally aims to offer “a bouquet of how things can end.” One such segment explains the radical theory that the dinosaurs weren’t killed over tens of thousands of years, but in a single day.
“The story that we’ve always grown up with is that a big rock hit the Earth and threw up dust, and that things got cold and dreary,” Krulwich says. “But some scientists think it happened very fast.”
“It’s a radical theory that sounds dumb at first,” Abumrad adds. “But it’s increasingly persuasive.”
The dinosaur story is told onstage with custom-built puppets and is among a few “fixed points” in a show that rotates comedians (Portland gets Reggie Watts), live musical accompanists and audiovisual segments about Samuel Beckett and Pepto-Bismol. “This is not just a radio show onstage,” Abumrad says. “If you’re used to the radio show, this is the radio show manufactured for your eyes—so it’s the same idea; it’s supposed to be surprising, it’s supposed to have rhythms that catch you.”
lesson of the mass dinosaur death theory remains open-ended. “If we live
in a world that takes a while to change because of our actions, it’s
different than if the consequences are instantaneous,” Krulwich says.
“We don’t say what the implication is, but there’s a deep ‘uh-oh.’”
GO: Radiolab Live: Apocalyptical will be at Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 19-20. 8 pm. $41.50-$161. radiolab.org.