by David Fuller · August 15, 2014
How about some very funny satire this FringeNYC? Come to Venue #4, Teatro LATEA on Suffolk Street and see Dragon’s Breath! This brand new comedy by Michael C. O’Day will bring you smiles, chuckles, and guffaws, while getting you to consider a thing or two about life. At 90 minutes, it may be a tad long for a one act, but this is the first time ever from page to stage for Dragon’s Breath, and a few nips and tucks are to be expected. Dramaturgical quibbles aside, the show is completely engaging due to a terrific ensemble of actors, fine direction and technical elements, plus a nifty, timely premise.
Somebody writes a book, telling a bunch of interconnected stories based on a theme. Others read that book. Some of them read between the lines, extracting messages and meanings that the author never intended. Those meanings become dogma, the readers acolytes, and a cause is born – one worth fighting for, worth becoming crazy for. Sound familiar? Since the birth of humankind storytellers’ words have evolved, or rather devolved, into major and minor social, political, scientific and, especially, religious causes.
In Dragon’s Breath, the protagonist is the writer Justine, who writes stories about dragons, dragons that take human form. She writes in the form of young adult paranormal romance novels, akin to those vampire-werewolf bestsellers, only with hunky dragon-humans. Her works become popular, but one particular faction sees in her books the tenets of a belief system and a dragonic religious order is born. In this wonderfully ironic, funny satire of the birth of religious fervor, O’Day provides a means to laugh at but also think about this process.
Lorinda Lisitza plays Justine wonderfully. O’Day's words (and she has by far a preponderance of them) tumble out of her with such honesty, simplicity and complete believability that we are in her corner rooting for her right from the start. Her supporting cast is equally fine. Christopher Michael McLamb’s Byron is a perfect publisher/confidant for Justine. Hannah Sloat as Laura is a total dragon nerd whose personal agenda spirals into fervent dragon mania in a funny, yet believable transformation. Edgar Eguia, Kendra Holloway and Ellen Warner play multiple roles with distinction and playwright O’Day is spot on as the ever-doubting Rocco.
Director Mikaela Kafka has staged the show well, keeping up the pace, while sets/lights designer Gregg Bellon serves the play simply and effectively. Costume designer David Quinn also did a fine job and special kudos need to go to Andrew Jordan’s mask design. No spoiler here, see the show and you’ll know why!
In his program note, O’Day writes about the dichotomy engendered when sacred texts are viewed through personal prisms. One is a broad, common-sense approach viewing them in historical and philosophical context. The other is a narrow reading, making the text conform to individual prejudices in order to further personal agendas. Examples of the latter are fomenting discord now throughout our globe. Dragon’s Breath points up the lunacy of extremism by giving us an absurd premise. Through O’Day’s looking glass those narrow folks become silly. Yet we also see how dangerously easy it is for humans to succumb to the narrow view. Dogma is easy to swallow when spoon fed to the masses by charismatics. At least here in Dragon’s Breath it is funny. But the message is clear, as espoused by Justine as she battles those who would hijack her stories: “Stop being crazy!”