I wish I had been taken to see shows like My Father’s Dragon when I was a kid.
Just over an hour long and crammed full of roly-poly fun, Synetic Theater’s latest tells the story of a boy and a cat who save a dragon held captive by a giant gorilla and his monkey henchmen on a mysterious jungle island. Why? Who? Huh? Don’t stress the questions — this isn’t that kinda pantomime/dance performance. If you can’t tell what is going on based on the emotions of the current scene, you’re overthinking it.
Adults in general might feel a little left out of My Father’s Dragon, which is adapted by Ryan Sellers from a children’s book by Ruth Stiles Gannett, directed and choreographed by Tori Tolentino, and going on now until January 6. The score is full of wonder (of the sort telegraphed by glissando on the chimes), but the plot is mostly bits of business, as Elmer Elevator (Scott Whalen) and Cat (Sharisse Taylor) outwit or outrun a warthog and mouse, monkeys, a rhino, a lion, the monkeys again, a crocodile, and finally the king gorilla, who regrettably throws a total of zero barrels. Diversions are nice, but this story is all diversion.
Also: The dragon is in a total of three scenes, one of which is a dream.
Still, the younger theatregoers at Saturday’s opening night appeared elated at the show, and I’m sure the ones in your life would be, too (perhaps a good Christmas present?). Matthew McGee’s puppets, Phil Charlwood’s sets, and Sadie Albert’s costumes are all pleasures for the eye, aided by a battalion of fog machines and some truly spectacular lights work.
As “the boy/Elmer,” the deeply talented Whalen pairs bustling kinetic energy with easily accessible feeling, and he has great chemistry with Sharisse Taylor’s kitty adventurer. Taylor does her feline physicality so well, it seems like second nature, meaning the performer gets to spend more time playing the scenes instead of just the character. And as Wild Island’s various animal inhabitants, Justin Bell, Katherine Cardenas, Nutsa Tediashvili fine the humanity in disappearing under puppets. Three cheers for all five.
Personally, I prefer Synetic’s more adult work — this is a theatre company that literally and figuratively enjoys exploring shades of black — but for the under-12-year-old set, you could do a lot worse than riding this Dragon.