The Dragon Play
Jenny Connell's drama lets us see ourselves reflected in the mythical beast's scales
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., April 13, 2012
The Dragon PlayThe Blue Theatre, 916 Springdale
Through April 14
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.
A shrug of the shoulder. In any other world, it might be taken as an expression of indifference or a sign of tension in the muscles extending from neck to back. But in the world conjured by Jenny Connell in The Dragon Play, that roll of a joint hints at secrets – the kind guarded jealously by the winged creatures of legend, who very much exist and whose affairs with humans inside a snow-smothered farmhouse in Minnesota and on the baked terrain of Texas form the heart of this drama by the University of Texas alumna (Summer People, The Psyche Project).
In the Hill Country, a teen boy's encounter with a similarly young dragon (she's only 312) plants a seed of mutual attraction that, years later, blooms into love. A thousand miles north, a woman now settled with a husband and sons must deal with the sudden arrival at her home of an old flame – one who can, in this case, literally breathe the stuff. As the two stories unwind, we learn much about dragons – more than you ever imagined when Peter, Paul, & Mary sang about Puff – but despite the intricate mythos that Connell develops, her true concern is the fire that burns within us when passion is kindled: its intensity, its duration, and its cost. We see it in the tender roll of Amelia Turner's shoulder when her girl dragon's wounded wing is first touched by Xander Slay-Tamkin's human boy, in the sensual shrug of Joseph Garlock as his dragon's unseen leathery wings unfold at the stroke of his onetime love, and in Liz Fisher's pained shoulder roll, suggesting the ache of a burn that has never healed, the skin's surface still chafed and raw. One simple movement, but here it's tinged with so many varied shades of vulnerability.
In her directorial debut, Shrewd Productions Artistic Director Shannon Grounds keeps well-focused on the drama's emotional stakes, a task she's aided in by actors with a deep sensitivity to feelings. (To those already mentioned, add Rommel Sulit, giving a man-on-a-wire turn as the workaday husband uneasily watching his wife's ardor reignited by a stranger from her past.) Thus this fable of the fantastic feels very grounded, its heartrending choices all too real. We catch ourselves reflected in the mythical beast's shining scales, seeing what it is to sacrifice our identity for love and choose the ordinary over the extraordinary.