Dragonslayer Slays Half the Beast

(reviewed for theaterscene)


Hope is a Miracle

Hope is a miracle. That line, uttered so sincerely, strikes us to the core. Isle of Shoals production of Occupation Dragonslayer is a little confusing, but hits a chord when it needs too. Billed as a contemporary musical fable, the production engages us, but fails to completely hook us.

What happens when seventeen people meet at a local diner near Ground Zero, eight days before the restaurant is to be sold to a rich land developer? For one guy, Chris this seems as good a place as any as he can’t remember who he is. Donning a Santa Suit and a FDNY fire-fighter shire underneath, we see that this man can see into peoples souls and instantly connects to everyone. As each new person or entourage enters, it is Chris who ties them all together. Act one is filled with many vignettes about each character. Herein lies the trouble in the piece, as it makes it appear fragmented. But thankfully, Chris is the anchor to the ship and pulls us all together.

In the background of the play, 9/11 is looming over everyone and although it is unclear how much time has elapsed since that horrible day, its effects are still being dealt with by the characters. It seems jarring to break into a musical number when the topic is 9/11. But the cast has strong voices, which combats the odd juxtaposition of musical and 9/11. So who is the Dragonslayer and what is his purpose? Well, it appears as if he is there to protect these people from corporate greed. But again, that is a guess because it gets a little fuzzy.

Chris, played by Steffen Alexander Whorton is the ultimate good guy; Sweet, sincere, and charming. We all instantly fall in love with this fellow. The Duchess, played by Judy Polson, is the only one who knows who the Dragonslayer is and what he is here to do. Polson is adequate in the role and gets the job done. Kimberly Bello, plays Mara, a wandering girl with no sense of purpose. She gives us a knock-out performance when she sings her number “The Girl in the Mirror.” She deserved a standing ovation. Watch out for Bello, she’s got the goods to make it far. Also noteworthy, is John Mervin, who plays Damon Slade. His voice is stellar and he is as every bit as slimy, corporate America that he needs to be. We love to hate him!

Yet, for all the strengths of the production, there were some weaknesses. Like the costumes, designed by Janet Goldberg. The play takes place during winter and a lot of the actors, the Duchess in particular, is inadequately dressed. If we are truly to buy into the fact that it is cold outside, it is a contradiction to see so many characters dressed in short-sleeves. This distracts us from fully buying into the world of the play. Also, the character of Gil, played by Steve Walsh is bewildering. In act one he enters a troubled, sad man, who is rather likeable. Then in act two he re-enters as this macho jerk who no one can stand. This leaves us dumbfounded and wondering about Gil’s true character. (Note: I  received a note that these roles played by Steve Walsh are actually two different characters, but that is unclear in the actual storytelling) Now, granted this is a musical, but there is an overabundance of musical numbers and reprises that don’t seem to help tell the true story. It seems as if the Book got short-shrift here and all the attention went into the music. A more equal balance would have been nice.

Yet, the final moment and the belief that hope is a miracle is moving. And in this political climate, who doesn’t need some of that? Further editing needs to be done, which will help tell a clearer story. Hopefully, Bryan Williams who wrote everything in the piece will sharpen his play, which will allow the audience to be fully immersed into his world because it is one worth sharing in!

Operation Dragonslayer plays now through Sept. 25, 2016 at 44o Lafayette Street. Robert Moss Theater

Crackskull Row: Deliciously Dark


“The past is where I love (to be)”. But what happens when we live in the past and fail to acknowledge the present? The Cell’s darkly delicious play, CrackSkull Row examines this phenomenon in its current production, Presented in 90 minutes, this play blurs the lines between reality and fantasy.

Set in Dublin, Ireland this tale follows Dolly and her son Rasher. Living in poverty, Dolly sells her body to make what little money they have. Dolly is being abused by her lover Basher. One night Basher comes home in a formidable rage and Dolly is severely beaten. To save his mother, Rasher kills the father but is caught and sent to prison. Simple right? Wrong. There are many complexities to the relationships between these three members, especially an incestual relationship between Rasher and his mother. As I stated earlier lines between past and present, fantasy and reality become so intermingled that it is hard to know what is actually occurring in the here and now,

But the confusion works in an odd way. Is Dolly going crazy? Or are her inner demons coming back to confront her? Or both? The through-line of the basic plot anchors the audience so we cn still follow the play. As we get thrown into the chaos, it is clear what it must be like to live in Dolly’s head. Terry Donnelly does a fantastic job as the old and feeble Dolly. Her lunacy and possible dealings with the underworld are well played. Donnelly builds a complex character that intrigues and we can witness her demise. John Charles Mclaughlin does a fine job playing the son Rasher. It is easy to judge incest, but harder when you see a human boy earnestly in love. Mclaughlin does this well and to this credit,we feel passionately for him. There is one scene in particular between Donnelly and Mclaughlin that is like a sampler platter from a restaurant. The two fine actors cover a broad spectrum of emotion and, even when it veers into the supernatural we never stop engaging with them. The other two actors do a good job rounding out the strong ensemble. Gina Costigan and Colin Lane are true craftsmen and can pack a punch when they need to.

Now, plays with accents can be tricky. How does one be authentic to the text and still intelligible? The cast does pretty well walking this line, although there were times when they can’t be understood. But thankfully, theses are only brief moments and we hear most of the story. Director, Kira Simring understands the play well and explores the subtleties of the story skillfully. If you want to be entertained and shut your bran off, don’t go see this play. But if you want thought-provoking theater (on the darker side) than you should go check this piece out!

CrackSkull Row plays now through September 25th. Workshop Theater 312 W 36th St, http://www.thecelltheatre.org