Christ Episcopal Church School of the Arts Review
Christ Episcopal Church, located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, opened the world premier of playwright Jason Woods’ magical play “St. George and the Dragon” on October 15, 2015. The show will continue at 400 San Juan Drive with performances during October 22 – 24 at 7:00 pm and October 25 at 3 pm. Financial support was provided by the Mallory Family Fine Arts Fund.
The legend of St. George is based on ancient legends, which involve fearless knights saving imperiled maidens and villagers by slaying fearsome dragons. The tale, brought from eastern regions to Europe by Crusaders returning from battle, became incorporated into Christian tradition. St. George is the patron saint of England, which, along with many other countries, celebrates St. George’s Day during annual festivals held in April.
Playwright and Director Jason Woods’ terrific imagination has fashioned an impressive two-act play with his version of the legend, with special emphasis on humor. Woods has constructed a twenty-foot long dragon of metal wires and leather, with sharp teeth and piercing green eyes. The dragon puppet is very much the centerpiece of this show. Theatre goers who saw the play “War Horse” here in Jacksonville or in New York and were mesmerized by the horse puppetry will be equally awed by Woods’ dragon and the talented puppeteers Cameron Pfahler, Boston Woods, (Hannah Woods, and Kristin Alexander) who bring it to life. Yes, this is a fire-breathing dragon, as we observed in one very dramatic scene, but speaking in a voice provided by Mr. Woods himself, this dragon reveals that he writes poetry, and is peaceful, sophisticated, and shy.
This stage version of this legend has a large and considerably gifted cast. The play begins with an official notification from the Town Crier (Jason Collins) of a small remote village that the annual festival bearing the name of St. George is beginning, and he announces the arrival of St. George to the assembled crowd. Collins weaves in and out throughout the action during the play, obviously enjoying his time in the spotlight.
As played by Alec Hadden, with his booming voice and fine comic talents, St. George does not seem quite – well, – quite knightly. He asks for money for his services in assisting the villagers by killing the dragon they fear, and is at his funniest in Act Two, when he drinks a potion that gives him the legs of a frog, the wings of a bird, and the mind of a fox.
While many of the villagers welcome St. George’s appearance, a witch (Patti Rohman Menefee), and her companion Erik the Goblin (Kristopher Stam) are not at all supportive and don’t want to give him money.
Much of the comedy comes from the antics of Checkley, the baker, played by Joshua Taylor whose fantastic monologue about baking a cake will have you craving some. His sidekick is Matt Tompkins as Tumble, an actor wannabe, who has previously played trees on stage, and once portrayed a horse in “A Man who Had no Horse.”
Olivia Gowan plays a pivotal role as the maiden Olivia Chandler, who daringly discovers the true nature of the dragon and is responsible for the happy ending. Ms. Gowan has appeared in a number of shows at Players by the Sea, and her original play “Cotton Alley” will be staged there in 2016.
One of the most inventive scenes occurs in Act One, at the home of Moonwig Grumblemuff, a wizard who has been consulted for help in dealing with the dragon. Robert Banks as Grumblemuff adds unexpected depth to the onstage high jinks. His amazing home has many surprises, including talking books. His bookshelves include a History Book (Ashley Augustyniak) a Novel (Bill White), a Cookbook (Rhodie Jackson), and he also has a talking Map (Joseph Stearman).
The actors who have roles as conversationalists in the wizard’s study also play villagers, joining Meganne McCawley Johnson, Vickie Dell, Julie Buckley, Rosalie Davies and Chad Krug as the vocal townspeople who appear in several scenes.
Three young actors dressed as sheep (Eve Holway, Megan Landis, and Ava Zilahy), were crowd favorites each time they appeared.
There are several scenes in the show, with the construction of the town being the first. Buildings made from foam proved to be quite portable and were quickly moved on and off the stage. All the actors were superbly miked by Sound Designer Garret Spies. Matt Moore handled the lighting and special effects and we especially enjoyed those involving the dragon.
Costume Coordinator Pam Joiner and assistants Hope Adkins, Pat Buckley, Carol Holland, and Verne Shortell captured the ambiance of England’s past. Scene changes were done with precision, thanks to Stage Manager Lora Christl, Assistant Stage Manager Ashley Macko, and Stagehand Brian Johnson.
Don’t miss this outstanding show, which appeals to all ages, although smaller children may find the dragon a bit scary. Thanks go to Executive Producer Rachel Root, Producer Barb Roberts, Playwright/Director Jason Woods, and The Christ Episcopal Church School of the Arts for presenting this outstanding theatrical experience. For additional information, visit christepiscopalchurch.org.