Know Theatre of Cincinnati is known for its fearless work and for partnering with other artists and companies. But I wish more of their work engaged me. Last season’s Angels in America, featuring several excellent local directors and actors, was a box-office success and last fall’s Skin Tight featured an experimental script — as much poetry and choreography as theater — and was a thrilling, engaging work.
I looked forward to Know’s collaboration with Madcap Puppets for The Dragon, in hopes of more innovation. But what’s onstage, using a newly adapted script, struck me as lethargic and not inventive enough.
Recent CCM grad Alison Vodnoy adapted the show from a 1943 play by Eugene Schwarz, an allegory about the brutality of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.
A dragon (played in baleful, ominous whiteface by live actor Paul Morris who growls and morphs convincingly) totally dominates the town. He is challenged — and defeated — by Lancelot (Dylan Shelton), an itinerant knight who falls in love with innocent singer Elsa (a marionette operated and voiced by Annie Kalahurka). But the townspeople simply accept another vile leader rather than celebrating freedom, kowtowing to the town’s blustering, empty-headed mayor (operated by Nathan Neorr).
The mixture of expressively designed but unchanging marionettes (conceived by Andrew Hungerford and sculpted by Lisa Siders) with live actors was without apparent rationale. Morris was scary, but Shelton was idealistic and wooden. Director Irina Niculescu staged the tale slowly and deliberately — marionettes don’t move quickly or change expression, relying on the verbal skills of puppeteers to bring them to life. The climactic battle with the dragon was merely reported by marionettes with smoke boiling overhead.
The Dragon’s moral was overly obvious and delivered too soon. Thirty minutes of this kind of storytelling might have been enough. Stringing us along nearly two hours was too much.
THE DRAGON, a co-production by Know Theatre and Madcap Puppets, continues through May 7. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.