REVIEW: The Last of the Dragons (Lifeline Theatre)

A good time for ALL ages

 

TheLastoftheDragons4 LR

review by  K.D. Hopkins

As I entered the Lifeline Theatre on a freezing Chicago afternoon, I thought back to the first time I saw real children’s theatre. It was a production of Peter Pan in the early 70’s. I was a cynical kid and did not give in easily to fantastic imagination. Fast forward to 2010 – I watched while what seemed to be an endless stream of children were herded into the cozy theatre. They were a well-behaved bunch and I sensed more sophisticated than most children about theatre. That was a bonus as we settled in for an hour of fun with a really great lesson about individuality and tradition.

TheLastoftheDragons3 LR The Last of the Dragons is a world premiere musical adaptation from a novel by Edith Nesbit. It is of interest to note that Ms. Nesbit was a woman considered ahead of her time in Victorian England. Not only was she an accomplished author but also a political activist involved in creating the precursor to England’s Labour Party – the Fabian Society. The central character of Princess Andromeda (nicknamed Andy) is a girl possessing a strong mind who has decidedly unfeminine pursuits according to her father, the king. She is an accomplished swordswoman, wears her hair short, and likes to dress in trousers. Like Victorian England, women’s roles were defined clearly and if one expected a comfortable life, she would willingly adapt to societal mores.

Princess Andy is played by Anne Sears. She is fresh faced and appealing as the gutsy princess. Her comic gifts show brilliantly in the scene where she is being coached in princess behavior and attire. Mike Ooi plays the King with just enough bombast and humor. Ooi possesses a fine bass voice that resounds in the song “Tradition”. This production does not talk down to the audience just because it is meant for children. There is a layered dynamic between the characters of the King and Princess Andy. They engage in swordplay in the opening scene that hints at the King’s indulgence and acceptance of his daughter’s skills and individuality.

Cast member David Fink is a triple threat as the hilarious D’Artagnan, Chamberlain, and as the Dragon. Mr. Fink has been in previous Lifeline Theatre adaptations (including my all time favorite childhood book “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile”), and here his role of Dragon breaks your heart as the Dragon who is a pacifist and longs to have friends rather than being feared. It’s a fine and subtle lesson about fear and prejudice as traditions that need to be broken in every generation. His characterization of the parrot D’Artagnan had everyone in the audience chuckling. He is physically nimble and obviously knows how to project emotion in spite of a giant papier-mache head.

Kudos is due to Scott Allen Luke as Prince Stanley. He is the perfect counterpoint to Princess Andy’s physicality. His character is studious and henpecked by his mother the Queen played with flair by Mallory Nees. Prince Stanley is told, “You must be more like a prince and less like you”. It is another good lesson in appearances and tradition no matter the time. Glass slippers, white horses, and dwarves can easily be seen as the cool shoes, toys, and school cliques in our time.

The staging of The Last of the Dragons is genius in its simplicity. The young audience can focus on the characters rather than lots of set dressing. The swordplay is not too violent and there are smart double entendres for everyone to enjoy. Director Dorothy Milne has managed to project the just right mix of whimsy and morality lessons with this production. Lifeline’s tagline is ‘big stories up close’ and they continue to be true to their word. The staging of the Dragon’s lair is funny and just scary enough. The Dragon is a beautiful mix of brocade and voile managing to cleverly encompass the breadth of the stage.

The music and lyrics are by Mikhail Fiksel, Kyle Hamman, and Alex Balestrieri. It is easy and fun to sing. In fact, I found myself humming the finale “Fly With A Dragon” as I walked home. David Bareford adapts this play from the story written by Ms. Nesbit, who collaborated with Kenneth Grahame of “Wind in the Willows” fame on her ‘Dragon’ stories toward the end of her colorful and turbulent life. The story is a fun fantasy that the kids will probably act out at home like any good childrens theatre or book. After I left, I recalled another theatre experience from the later 70’s called Warp by Stuart Gordon at the Organic Theater. This fine production of The Last of the Dragons is great preparation for more theatre in a child’s future whether they are three or ready for AARP.

If you have not yet been to a Lifeline Theatre production, this is an excellent one to attend – and see for yourself why this theatre company has been a long-time anchor in the Glenwood Arts District and a precious resource in the neighborhood as a whole.

 

Rating: ★★★

The Last of the Dragons runs through February 21st 2010. Shows are Saturdays at 1:00PM and Sundays at 11:00AM and 1:00PM. The Lifeline Theatre is located at 6912 Glenwood Avenue in Rogers Park. Call 773-761-4477 or visit www.lifelinetheatre.com for more information on Lifeline’s productions and other fun programs for children and adults alike. See you in the aisles!

 

NOTE: These pictures and bios are from Lifeline Theatre’s “Cast and Crew” page.  You will find more info on this excellent production here.

David Fink (Chamberlain, D’Artagnan, Dragon)
David is thrilled and very proud to return to the Lifeline stage! He was last seen here as Duck in Duck for President and Lyle in Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. A graduate of Columbia College, David has been working steadily around the city with such fine troupes as the hypocrites, Silent Theatre, Nothing Without A Company, and most recently with Dragon Cello Theater in their inaugural show, And Time Runs On, at the Irish American Heritage Center. David can also be seen regularly as Mickey LaRue, host of the Rippettes Burlesque.

Scott Allen Luke (Stanley, Tailor)
Scott is thrilled to be back at Lifeline, having appeared last season in the KidSeries production of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. Scott has worked extensively in the theatre scene around Chicago with companies like Next Theatre, Light Opera Works, Raven Theatre, Circle Theatre, The Mill Theatre Co., Keyhole Theatre, Chase Park Theatre, Lincoln Square Theatre, and Rubicon Theatre Project, which he co-founded.

Mallory Nees (Queen, Lady-in-Waiting)
Mallory is a recent graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University. Some favorite roles include Pennywise in Urinetown (dir. Dexter Bullard), Florina in Mad Forest (dir. Carlos Murillo) and Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Before coming to Chicago, Mallory performed at various venues in her home state of Wisconsin as Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Gilda in Design for Living, and Sarah in Spinning Into Butter. Since graduation, she’s worked with Rivendell Theatre, Point of Contention Theatre, Gorilla Tango, and Theatre-Hikes Chicago. You may have seen her in Dooby Dooby Moo here at Lifeline, and later this season, she’ll be in the KidSeries production of The Blue Shadow.

Mike Ooi (King)
Mike is happy to return to Lifeline after joining them for the 2008 summer extension of The Mark of Zorro. Other Chicago credits include 1985 and Mop Top Festival (Factory Theatre), Three Penny Opera (the hypocrites at Steppenwolf Garage), Old Town (Strawdog Theatre), Curse of the Crying Heart and The Rocketman (House Theatre of Chicago). Mike has also worked as a stage manager and in other aspects for The House Theatre of Chicago, the hypocrites, and Lifeline Theatre.

Anne Sears (Princess)
Anne is delighted to making her debut at Lifeline Theatre. Recently she appeared as Kate in The Wild Party (Silent Theatre Company) and Kathleen Mooney in Flanagan’s Wake (Noble Fool Theatricals).

 

Sara Gorsky (Understudy)
Sara is so excited to be working with Lifeline for the first time! She has been seen around town working with the Mammals, Strawdog Theatre Company, The Resonants and WNEP to name a few. But her favorite thing has been playing a sword-fighting pirate damsel at the Port Washington Pirate Festival!

 

Andy Junk (Understudy)
Andy is a recent graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University where he studied Theatre Arts. He is a member of "Carpeted Afterhours," a Sketch Comedy group that performs in the Chicago area. His previous credits include G.I.F.T. at Collaboraction, Dorothy Parker: MEN! in New York City, and BoHo Theatre‘s production of 365 Days/365 Plays.

 

David Bareford (Adaptor)
David makes his Lifeline writing debut with this production. His other work has been produced locally by R&D Choreography’s Action Theatre, including the short plays IX-47, Catalan Grand, The Jesuit Files: Butcher of Firenze, and HMS Barnacle (which also received a staged reading at the Goodman Studio Theatre). Regionally, his one-act Pulitzer Prize was showcased at Northwestern College of Iowa, and his writing also appeared at the Port Washington Pirate Festival of Wisconsin in an outdoor pirate stunt show extravaganza. David holds a BA in Theatre and has studied at the American Conservatory Theatre Academy in San Francisco.

Mikhail Fiksel (Composer, Co-Lyricist & Sound Designer)
Mikhail is delighted to be back at Lifeline, having previously worked on Talking It Over and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. He is an ensemble member of Strawdog Theatre Company (where he recently received an After Dark award for Original Score, Old Town, and a Jeff Award for Original Incidental Music, A Lie of the Mind) and Serendipity Theatre Collective where he is a resident musical director for 2ndStory. He is also an Artistic Associate with Teatro Vista Theatre (Jeff Award for Sound Design, Blindmouth Singing) and Collaboraction (Orgie Award for Original Music, Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow). Other recent projects include Mojo Mickybo (Seanachaí); The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, Living Green and A Park in Our House (Victory Gardens); Last of My Species, Winter Pageant Redux (Jeff Award Nomination for Sound Design) and Once Upon a Time (Redmoon Theatre); El Grito del Bronx, Another Part of the House (Teatro Vista), Frankenstein, Oedipus (The Hypocrites); The Revenants (Wildclaw Theater); Jon (Collaboraction); The Cherry Orchard, R.U.R. (Strawdog); Stupid Kids (About Face Theatre); Maria’s Field, Romeo&Juliet and Uncle Vanya (TUTA); Fake Lake (Neofuturists); Massacre (The Goodman Theatre w/Teatro Vista); and various productions with Adventure Stage Chicago, where he is a resident designer, and Loyola University, where he teaches Sound Design. Outside of theatre stages, he can be found recording and performing, sometimes under a moniker "dj white russian" or with his band Seeking Wonderland.

Dorothy Milne (Director)
Dorothy has been the Artistic Director of Lifeline Theatre since 1999 and an ensemble member since 1992. She has directed nineteen productions at Lifeline, receiving a Non-Equity Jeff Award (Direction) for Around the World in 80 Days in 2003; and Non-Equity Jeff Nominations (Direction) for Pistols for Two, Jane Eyre (for which she also received an After Dark Award), Strong Poison, and Gaudy Night. She most recently directed The Mark of Zorro. Outside of Lifeline, she directed Little Brother and Stardust for Griffin Theatre. Back in 1992, she received an Equity Jeff Nomination for her direction of Eleemosynary at Interplay Theatre Company. Dorothy is also a 14-year member of the writing-performing collective Sweat Girls.

Jennifer Aparicio (Stage Manager)
Jennifer is excited to be back at Lifeline where she stage managed the 2008 production of Snowflake Tim’s Big Holiday Adventure. She has worked with The Second City, etc., Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, New World Repertory Theater and 16th Street Theater. She graduated from Columbia College with a BA in Theater.

Sarah Hughey (Lighting Designer)
This is Sarah’s second lighting design at Lifeline, after designing for Mariette in Ecstasy last season. Recent Chicago credits include Wind in the Willows (City Lit Theatre Company), Mojo Mickybo (Seanachaí Theatre Company), Girls vs. Boys (House Theatre of Chicago with American Musical Theatre Project/Northwestern University), Little Brother and On the Shore of the Wide World (Griffin Theatre), and Parlour Song (Steep Theatre). Upcoming projects include The Blue Shadow with Lifeline, as well as work with the House Theatre and Seanachaí Theatre.

Joanna Iwanicka (Puppet Design)
Joanna is thrilled to be back at Lifeline, where she first exhibited her passion for puppets in The True Story of 3 Little Pigs. She has later developed her interest in puppetry during her graduate studies in Scenic Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan, Poland. Upon returning to the United States, she showcased some of her acquired skills in Lifeline’s recent production of Dooby Dooby Moo (talent show judges). Joanna has also designed sets for Congo Square Theatre, Chopin Theatre, The Library Theatre, Vintage Theatre Collective and Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. She has also experienced creative processes of Santa Fe Opera, Denver Center Theatre Company, Williamstown Theatre Fesival, Des Moines Metro Opera, and most recently Redmoon Theatre and The Addams Family, A New Musical.

Joanna Melville (Costume Designer)
This is Joanna’s third design at Lifeline, where she also worked on Busman’s Honeymoon and the KidSeries production of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. Other Chicago credits include costume design for Shattered Globe Theatre, Quest Theatre Ensemble, Strawdog Theatre, and Backstage Theatre Company; as well as costume design assisting for Lookingglass Theatre and the British Stage Company. Other credits include Renaissance Theaterworks of Milwaukee, American Players Theatre, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, and the Santa Fe Opera. Joanna is an alumna of Illinois State University (BA), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (MFA).

R&D Choreography (Violence Design)
R&D Choreography is thrilled to once again be working with Lifeline in a puppet-killing capacity! R&D is a non-profit company founded by David Gregory and Richard Gilbert for the purpose of improving the power and effectiveness of Chicago area theatre through the art of violence design. Since 1997, R&D has choreographed fight scenes in over one hundred thirty-five productions, taught stage combat at universities, colleges, and workshops, and performed in professional theatre, live stunt shows, and film. They have designed violence for dozens of Chicago area theatres, including About Face, Apple Tree Theatre, ATC, Azusa, Bailiwick, Blindfaith, Circle Theatre, First Folio, Griffin, National Pastimes, New American Theatre, Piven Theatre, Profiles, Shakespeare’s Motley Crew, Theo Ubique and Trapdoor Theatre.

Ian Zywica (Scenic & Props Designer, Technical Director)
Ian has been freelancing in Chicago as a Scenic Designer and Technical Director for the past three years. He recently designed Miracle on 34th Street (Porchlight Music Theatre), Under Milk Wood (Caffeine Theatre), and The Foreigner (Triton College).

Cortney Hurley (Production Manager)
Cortney is excited to be kicking off her fourth season with Lifeline after working on such productions as The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Mark of Zorro. Previous production management positions include the last three seasons at Strawdog Theatre, Ellen Under Glass with the House Theatre of Chicago, and One False Note with Plasticene. She currently serves as the Production Manager and General Manager at Strawdog Theatre, as well as the Assistant Production Manager at Theater on the Lake since 2004.

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