Review: Slaying the Dragon

Saturday night I drove to Mass Ave’s indyFringe Building for the premier production of Slaying the Dragon, by Indianapolis theatre Avenging Orange Productions. Written by Casey Ross, author of the 2009 indyFringe Theatre Festival’s Tortillo!, I walked into Slaying the Dragon with high hopes for rousing entertainment. As a juggler crudely warmed up the audience in the vein of a court jester, I settled into my seat at this relatively new Indianapolis performing arts venue, eagerly awaiting the lights to go down (and the juggler to stop heckling the audience).

Set in a modern day vacuum, Slaying the Dragon examines the changing roles of women and men in today’s society through a quirky and original lens. King and Queen Farandwide (Dave Eckerd and Amy Pettinella) are faced with a world of moderns, who lack the respect necessary to maintaining their royal facade. Their daughter, Princess Malina (Sharon Cruz), faces a similar plight of many children of immigrant parents. She has adapted to the world around her, and her royal parents have not. While her parents, the King and Queen, focus on finding their daughter a suitable (and noble) suitor, Princess Malina simply wants to sell sweaters at her retail job, attempting to open doors for herself.

When an ex-knight, Alexandar Meandar (Ryan Powell), moves in next door, it seems the perfect opportunity for King and Queen Farandwide to pawn their daughter off. But little do they expect his roommate to be a six foot scholarly dragon named Flameson (Jacob Cooper). As the giant lizard laments the near extinction of his kind due to the royal charges of judgmental nobles, he acts as foil to Meander’s lovelorn heart. As the plot unfolds, Knight Alexendar is charged by his new boss, the King, to kill Flameson in order to win the hand of the beautiful Malina (or something like that).

Unfortunately, it seems this play was plagued by lack of rehearsal and unforeseen circumstances. I’m glad I spoke to the playwright, Casey Ross, at intermission before unleashing my full judgement on this Indianapolis community theatre production. With only a three week rehearsal process scheduled before the curtain was to go up, the original Princess Malina and Knight Alexandar Meander were forced to drop out in the first week of work on this piece. Unable to get replacements into the rehearsal room until the third and final week of rehearsal, Slaying the Dragon suffers from an obvious lack of rehearsal time.

Though unfortunate, this raises an interesting question about the nature of community theatre in Indianapolis. Can a community theatre show be mounted in only three weeks, even if it doesn’t hit any snags? The answer varies depending on the scope of talent involved in the process, but I would surmise that the majority answer would be “No.” With too few people and too little time, the odds are stacked against the success of community theatre. More often an evening hobby than a full time focus, it is nearly impossible for small theatre companies in Indianapolis to compete regularly with bigger houses like the Indiana Repertory Theatre or Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre.

Cultivating an audience alone is a full time job, and one that can not simply be accomplished by postering and postcard drops in the days before opening night. Not to mention unforeseeable circumstances that come up in every theatrical production, whether equity or community. While those bitten by the theatre bug wish to be in performance or rehearsal mode at all times, their over enthusiasm for production often leads to underwhelming results. It is the never ending battle of quantity versus quality.

With wonderful opportunities provided to smaller Indianapolis art and theatre companies like the indyFringe Building, the Wheeler Arts Center and hopefully the new Indy Performing Arts Center in Indianapolis downtown, I want to be clear in my message. These groups should most definitely continue to produce work. I simply ask nonprofessional theatre artists in the city to weigh the costs and benefits of each production, as they attempt to draw audiences from larger theatre companies. Producing less work is preferable, in my opinion, to producing massive amounts of work. Giving yourself more time can only mean a better outcome.

It seems unfair to give a completely honest critique of Slaying the Dragon, as it suffered from the trap many community theatre productions fall into. However, it is possible to accept the show for what it is and to discuss it on that level. Ross’ script was clearly intelligent and very witty. Though the humor fell flat more times than not, it was not the fault of the playwright’s words but rather sketchy memorization from the cast. Ross has a talent for peopling her worlds with unique voices that remain true throughout. Though it seems as if she wrote herself into a few corners when it came to unraveling the plot, it is unclear whether this is due to the cast’s lack of confidence or if fault lies in the script itself.

As Flameson the Dragon, Jacob Cooper shines. It may be because the cast around him are lackluster that he so easily steals the spotlight, but I doubt it. He landed almost all of his jokes, reminding the audience that this crazy collision of a play is actually a comedy. As the saving grace and title character, it is easy for audiences to trust that Cooper will maneuver the cast out of landmine mistakes.

I’m choosing to largely ignore lagging cue pick ups throughout the show, because of the last minute adjustments made. However, the dropped cues were not the only element causing the play to move at a snail’s pace. Slow scene changes painfully punctuated each scene break. Considering the substitutions in the cast that halted the process, the lost week of rehearsal could have easily been devoted to making these scene changes clip by.

The moral of the story that Avenging Orange Productions latest show shares is “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” Overall, Slaying the Dragon acts not as a fully fledged performance, but a staged workshop of a lovely new script. Attend at your own risk with this in mind, and your evening might just be as a lovely as the world of characters that Ross dreams up in her head.

For more information about this Indianapolis event, visit the indyFringe Theatre Festival’s website. Heading to the Indianapolis cultural district, Mass Ave, for Slaying the Dragon? Check out these great Indianapolis restaurants and Indianapolis bars nearby. Remember Devour Downtown, going on until February 6, offers Hoosiers a chance to dine for less. Stay tuned to Fun City for all the latest on fun things to do in Indianapolis.

Slaying the Dragon
February, 2010

IndyFringe Theatre Festival
The IndyFringe Building
719 E St. Clair St
Indianapolis, IN46202