Clocking in at just an hour, “My Father’s Dragon” is another family friendly show that will not tax kids’ abilities to sit in a seat and watch a live show. In fact, this show is imaginative, mysterious, has a real story arc, and sort of ends happily. It’s also quixotic, charming, excitingly played, and engrossing. What makes it even more fun is that the dialogue is non-existent, and Synetic proves again that it is not always needed.
. . . a lovely, beautifully produced and physically lilting hymn to the most hopeful of seasons.
This was one of the best hours I have spent recently. And to judge by the raptness of the rest of the audience, one of the best hours they have spent recently, too.
Briefly, a curious cat (see, it starts with a cat, which usually bodes very well) finds a dragon egg (the cat doesn’t know it’s a dragon egg) on Wild Island. When the dragon is born, they two shyly connect, then start playing. But then the young dragon is captured by the Gorilla King and spirited away. The cat needs help, so she dashes to town and meets a young orphan boy, whom she persuades to help her save her friend. Once they trek to Wild Island, they run into a warthog and a mouse guarding the coast, among others (lion, monkeys, crocodile); eventually, they find the dragon, free him, join together and battle the Gorilla King together.
Based on the children’s novel by Ruth Stiles Gannett the story borrows lots of elements from old fairy tales, but as produced by Synetic, it becomes a magical adventure, a quest in the best sense. A Newbery Honor Book in 1949, the book appeals to our better natures to be compassionate and curious and to believe in something greater than ourselves. But it does it with a light touch.
The set is pure Synetic—soaring and multi-level with a sense of danger and distance. Phil Charlwood is the scenic designer and he creates an intriguing “island.” He is most able abetted in this by the lighting designer,Ian Claar, who creates a river and a coastline, and gives a hint of depth of the forest. The play is briskly directed by Tori Tolentino. Puppet design is by Matthew McGee; and the puppets move so beautifully with their human handlers that you just want to engage with them. One of the more amazing pieces of the direction is that you really don’t pay attention to the human handlers; they sort of fade into the trees and that is a remarkable feat of practice and talent and direction.
All of the characters are played by only five cast members. Elmer Elevator (the young orphan boy) is played by Scott Whalen. The Cat is also part of the ensemble and is portrayed by Sharisse Taylor. Justin J. Bell, Kat Cardenas-Cruz and Nutsa Tediahvili round out the ensemble. Again, the work by these talented actors and the direction is so flawless that at the end, when just the five took bows, some of the audience was waiting for the rest of the cast to show up. Somehow that stage looked more full than it was.
Synetic’s rightly vaunted physical theatre is the real star as embodied by these agile cast members. The words are not needed in the interactions between Elmer and the other species, nor between the species. The body language is adroit and on point.
And in spite of the dramatic tension inherent in a rescue story, it is a story of trust and friendship and using your own gifts to help others. There is humor and an underlying hope and gentleness in the story, and it is embodied in communication especially between Elmer and the Cat.
This is a delightful, quietly thoughtful, and engrossing show to take the family too. Or just to see for yourself as a lovely, beautifully produced and physically lilting hymn to the most hopeful of seasons.
Running Time: Approximately one hour with no intermission.
“My Father’s Dragon” runs from December 4 – January 6, 2019, at Synetic Theater, Crystal City, Arlington, VA. For more information, please click here.