Magic spells

Last of the Dragons

By Kristin Walter, adapted from a story by E. Nesbit
Directed by Bruce Merrill
Vital Theatre Company
432 West 42nd Street 3rd fl. (592-4508)
Equity showcase (closes Feb. 3)
Review by Doug DeVita

There are moments of such sophisticated hilarity in Last of the Dragons that the production, currently at Vital Children's Theatre, seemed somewhat out of place as a children's offering -- the adults in the audience were as entertained as the children were, perhaps even a bit more so.

All of the conventions of a first-rate children's theatre production were in place--a classic story, complete with life lessons and affirmative views of human differences, wants and needs--but it was the laugh-out-loud, rollicking slapstick that boosted the show into the realm of delightfully dizzy entertainment. Whenever the action was even remotely close to lagging, author Kristin Walter and director Bruce Merrill snazzed things up with an unexpected verbal twist or brilliantly staged bit of business. One particularly funny sequence involved a chase set to "The Saber Dance," a breathtaking comic ballet of split-second timing that could have been named "Noises Off, the Jr. Edition."

In addition, Last of the Dragons benefited from the terrific performances of its young, vibrant cast. Maria Cabezas made a defiantly independent Princess, out to save the world, and herself, from the last dragon in her kingdom, and Tracy Galliard made a case for the ethical treatment of dragons everywhere with her sympathetically cool, elegant Dragon. James Hunt was a funny King, and Darren Macri was an even funnier prince, appropriately nerdy, fey, or butch(ish) as necessary. Ben Hindell and Claire McClanahan as the Prince's Valet and the Princess's Nurse, respectively, brought down the house with their well-timed comic delivery and hilarious physicality.

The only area in which the production fell short was in its design. With the exception of a stunning costume for the Dragon, the rest of the show was rather bland. A series of painted cubes served as a set--they were attractively painted, but setting them up for each scene slowed the action unnecessarily; the lighting was perfunctory, as were the rest of the costumes, although they did add a bit of color against the black backdrop. It was unfortunate that the show didn't have the visual snap that the rest of it had, indeed that has been one of the hallmarks of previous VCT productions. (Set design by Heather Dunbar, costume design by Tracy Galliard, Lighting design uncredited.)

But in the end, the lack of an outstanding design scheme didn't really matter--Last of the Dragons relied far more heavily, and successfully, on its strong, snappy story, its fast-paced physical comedy and its wonderful cast to make it another win for this troupe.

 Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Sets: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita