“The Reluctant Dragon” isn’t a new story—in fact, it dates back to the late 1800s—but the Montgomery Playhouse’s production of the same name certainly adds a modern twist to the old classic. The story, which tells of the friendship between a little girl and a mild-mannered dragon, has been revamped for a twenty-first-century audience, with references to everything from Brad Pitt to Netflix.
The story begins with the introduction of Charity (Jade Fraction), a young girl who would rather read and write poetry than work on her parents’ farm in the small village of Weesaldorf. After her mother (Joy Gerst) chastises her father (Bruce Hirsch) for forgetting to fix the fence, he runs off into the mountains to meditate, where he stumbles upon the titular dragon, played by Cassandra Redding. Though he tells Charity not to go into the mountains, her curiosity gets the better of her and she decides to ignore his warning and see for herself. But rather than finding the enormous, terrifying, bloodthirsty creature her father described, Charity finds a kind-hearted dragon who enjoys tea, cookies, and cloud-watching—and who shares her affinity for poetry. Knowing that her new friend is soon going to be in danger, Charity realizes she must figure out a way to protect him from the frightened townspeople.
…the overall message of this show is one of tolerance and acceptance, friendship and loyalty, and the importance of staying true to your heart.
Jade Fraction shines as the thoughtful and compassionate Charity, while Gerst and Hirsch contrast her well as her comically dimwitted parents. Cassandra Redding is also a pleasure to watch on stage; she is a master at toeing the line between the dragon’s over-the-top quirkiness and his genuine lovability. The ensemble is rounded out by a delightful cast of characters, including Marc Rehr as the hilariously absentminded Mayor, Alexandra Burris as the Mayor’s exasperated assistant, MollyBeth Rushfield as the knight sent to slay the dragon, Samantha Fraction as the knight’s cash-obsessed squire, Rachael Harding and Tricia Pisarra as a pair of obnoxious salesmen who constantly try to sell their silly products to nearly every other character, and Nik Henle, Anastasia Rittenhousesmith, and Zachary Rittenhousesmith as the town’s not-particularly-helpful militia.
This revamped retelling is a treat for children of all ages. Between the colorful, eye-catching costumes by Erica Arnold and Stephanie Yee, the classic fairytale plot, and the use of visual comedy and recurring gags, even young kids are sure to be entertained for the entire length of the play. Perhaps the most fun part of the show was the audience participation: at the beginning of the show, three kids from the audience are chosen to come up on stage a few times throughout the performance, as part of the Weesaldorf militia. The looks on the faces of the kids who were chosen on opening night made it clear that they were having the times of their lives.
That being said, I think it’s fair to say that there were just as many jokes in the show intended for the parents as there were for the kids. Most of these “adult” jokes were political in nature, and some of them even created something of a sour tone within in an otherwise good-natured show. Even though “The Reluctant Dragon” is without a doubt an enjoyable show for kids, be prepared for a good number of jokes that your children might not understand (for example, after a joke about a $35,000 gender discrimination lawsuit, a girl in the audience asked, “Do I have to pay that?”) and even a few that you might not especially want to hear.
Nevertheless, the overall message of this show is one of tolerance and acceptance, friendship and loyalty, and the importance of staying true to your heart. As Charity convinces the townspeople not to judge the dragon simply because of his intimidating appearance, the kids in the audience also learn not to make assumptions about people they don’t know. When Charity collaborates with the knight and the dragon to figure out how to save his life, they learn the importance of friendship and teamwork. And when they see Charity save the day without ever abandoning her love of poetry, they learn that sometimes you can be kind, intelligent, and thoughtful—and still be the hero of the story.
Running Time: An hour and 15 minutes.
Advisory: Recommended for children ages 7 and up.
The Montgomery Playhouse’s “The Reluctant Dragon” plays January 5th through 21st, Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 11am & 2pm, and Sundays at 2pm, at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn located at 311 Kent Square Rd., Gaithersburg, Maryland. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.