Encore Stage & Studio Darius and the Dragon/Rap-PunzelBy Joe Adcock • Jan 9th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Encore Stage & Studio
Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre, Arlington, VA
Through January 15th
1:45 with one intermission
Reviewed January 6th, 2011
According to lots of veteran playwrights, “Everyone writes one-acts but nobody produces them.” The current exception to the “nobody produces them” gripe is Encore Stage & Studio, a “family friendly” company whose current production is a one-act double bill — by two veteran playwrights.
First there’s Eleanor Harder’s Darius the Dragon, a flight of fantasy that touches down on a couple of real-life issues: environmental degradation and homelessness. And then comes a jolly Rap-Punzel, by Whitney Ryan Garrity. Like Darius, it is fanciful — but it too is seasoned with a pinch of seriousness; namely, the issues of hunger and exploitation.
Encore is a performance training program focusing tweens and teens. Its productions are an essential part of the theatrical learning experience. Classroom and studio instructions and exercises aren’t enough to give a kid a real sense of performance. That necessary element requires theater’s all-important sine qua non: an audience. The opening night audience for Encore’s current show was vigorously encouraging. It seemed to be made up largely of cast members friends and families plus a good number of Encore alumni.
There is something special about kids in an audience watching kids on stage. The identification is automatic. The Darius/Rap-Punzel double bill is geared to audiences “4 and up.”
As for the stories, they both have a fairytale quality. Darius is about a dragon who awakes from a centuries-long siesta. His sleep is disturbed by a bulldozer that is tearing up the once-bucolic countryside that used to surround Darius’ cave. Indeed, what used to be countryside is now the last remaining park in a big, gritty city. Set and props manager Marji Jepperson has generously accessorized the stage with fast food and snack packaging litter.
The indignant Darius rallies local kids to stand up for open space. At first the town authorities resist. But the mayor is up for reelection. And the police chief doesn’t want to jeopardize his imminent retirement. The eventual amicable resolution is in everyone’s interest.
One mandate of student productions is “more is better.” The more performers a director can get on stage, the better for maximizing that all-important get-them-up-on-stage-in-front-of-an-audience experience. Encore artistic director Susan Alison Keady is a maximizer. She has 19 kids up there on stage for both of the current shows. There is a lot of milling around for crowd scenes and running around for helter-skelter moments. To represent urban traffic congestion, the roles include kids costumed as a Volkswagen, a Smart Car, a motorcycle, a police cruiser, a convertible and a school bus. In the second part of the bill — Rap-Punzel — the cast includes arugula, asparagus, broccoli, parsley, cabbage and collard greens, plus a chorus of four snappy rappers and two apprentice witches. All this in addition to the essential central roles. Imagine if all these performers had to be paid (rather than having the actors pay to perform)! The production costs would be right up there with a staging of Shakespeare’s Henry V, complete with French and English armies.
In the main roles, Encore’s young actors show promise. Once she gets started, Katy Scruggs as Darius the dragon speaks clearly and conveys the bewilderment and indignation of a time-warped “overgrown lizard.” Isabel Tate as the mayor and Laura Wade as the police chief somehow capture the jokey opportunism and cynicism of professional high-level bureaucrats — so young and yet so savvy; oh dear . . . .
Rap-Punzel is your familiar Brothers Grimm tale of greed, meanness and, eventually, auspicious happenstance. Playwright Whitney Ryan Garrity’s refreshing take on this material includes dialogue written in rhymed couplets. The effect is something like the 17th Century comedies of Molière, in which dire situations turn funny under the influence of goofy characters and bouncy talk. It all starts with a husband who avers, “I can’t say no,” to which the wife answers, “Yes, I know.” Then we’re headed for an encounter with talking green vegetables ruled over by in evil witch. The pregnant wife has vegan cravings. She sends her husband off to steal some of the witch’s greens. The witch catches the thief. She demands custody of the as yet unborn baby, it’s either that or annihilation. And so . . . .
The six actors playing various vegetables and the four girls playing catty commentators are peppy and funny as they spout their perky rap-like rhymes. The essence of droll evil — the witch — played by Rosie Coolidge, is serious and authoritative if not really scary. Nicky Bean is amusingly befuddled as the hen-pecked husband and Sarah Malks is no-nonsense aggressive as the wife — the hen that does the pecking.
When the show was over on opening night the big cast got a big hand from the big audience. Everyone — those on stage and those on seats — looked happy.
Note: Normally Encore performs at the Thomas Jefferson middle school community theater in Arlington. But that facility was damaged by last year’s earthquake. So the company has been nomadic of late. After finishing its run at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre, the group will move on to the Arlington’s Kenmore Middle School auditorium for its next production. The hope is that the Thomas Jefferson performance space will be again up and running by June.
Blending the Familiar with the Innovative
Welcome to Encore Stage & Studio’s production of Darius the Dragon & Rap-Punzel! The first is, in its Encore debut, concerns a medieval dragon who, shaken from his underground lair by a bulldozer, emerges into the noise and unfamiliar sights of the 21st century. Darius tries to put the degraded environment to rights, with the help of local children. The second is a modern, rhythmic re-telling of the popular tale of a princess trapped in a tower.
We at Encore are grateful to the Arlington County Cultural Affairs Division for locating new performing space for us this year while the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre’s earthquake damage is repaired. We hope you enjoy the spectrum as much as we do! Note that the curtain rises on Encore’s next play, The Magical Lamp of Aladdin in the beautiful auditorium at Kenmore Middle School. By June we should be back on the familiar stage at Thomas Jefferson.
Photos by Larry McClemons
- Sgt. Finley/Spinach & Collard Greens: Jenna Alcorn
- Louis/Husband: Nicky Beane
- Volkswagen/Rapunzel: Ashley Britton
- Young Person/Witch: Rosie Coolidge
- Smart Car/Prince: Alex Flood
- Dozer Bull/Cabbage: Maggie Keane
- Young Person/Wife: Sarah Malks
- Young Person/Rapper: Charlotte Martin
- Police/Squires: Colin Meek
- Motorcycle/Squire: Benjamin Overby
- Police/Turnip & Parsley Greens: Ra’Drea Rayborn
- Jennifer/Rapper: Nicole Redifer
- Convertible/Lettuce & Broccoli: G.G. Richmond
- Young Person/Rapper: Rachel Sedehi
- Darius/Rapper: Katy Scruggs
- School Bus/Apprentice Witch: Juliet Smith
- Young Person/Apprentice Witch: Maddy Smith
- Mayor/Asparagus: Isabel Tate
- Chief of Police/Arugula: Laura Wade
- Executive Director: Sara Strehle Duke
- Artistic Director: Susan Alison Keady
- Marketing & Education Services Coordinator, Program: Aileen Pangan
- Executive Producer: Celeste Groves
- Producer: Joanna Van Sickle
- Director, Props, Set Dressing: Marji Jepperson
- Technical Director: Frank Pasqualino
- Assistant Technical Director: Walid Chaya
- Costume Design & Build, Makeup Design: Debra Leonard
- Set Design & Build, Lighting Designer: Michael C. Null
- Stage Manager: Olivia Tate
Disclaimer: Encore Stage & Studio provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7507.
Joe Adcock lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.