Review: ‘My Father’s Dragon’ at Synetic Theater

Synetic Theater produces another visually captivating and emotion-filled journey in their newest show, My Father’s Dragon. The story, adapted by Ryan Sellers, is based on the children’s book of the same title, written by Ruth Stiles Gannett.

Elmer Elevator and Cat (Scott Whalen and Sharisse Taylor and the dragon in My Father’s Dragon at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Elmer Elevator and Cat (Scott Whalen and Sharisse Taylor and the dragon in My Father’s Dragon at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

It’s the tale of a young boy, Elmer Elevator, who runs away to an island with a clever cat leading the way. They are on a mission to rescue a baby dragon and come across many wild animals that impede their mission. But working together the pair discover that friendship, confidence, and a little imagination can help accomplish even the most impossible goals.

The production is entirely wordless, and Director Tori Tolentino uses a combination of pantomime, dance, and movement, which is beautifully executed by the small, five-member cast.

The set, designed by Phil Charlwood, along with intricate lighting design by Ian Claar, creates a dark, jungle scene with trees and vines, varying levels, and the illusion of water.

Scott Whalen plays Elmer, and Sharisse Taylor is his Cat companion. The two make a lovely duo, immediately capturing the audiences’ affection and sympathies, with the sincerity and innocence of their performances.  

The show begins with Taylor’s Cat discovering a dragon egg on the Wild Island. Cat feels an instant connection to the beating heart of the baby inside the shell, but the egg hatches and the newborn is captured by the animals in the jungle.

Later, in a bustling city, Elmer is trying to earn his keep as a street performer when he meets Cat, who entices him to join her on a journey back to the island. Equipped with a backpack full of simple items, like a scarf, a magnifying glass, and a toothbrush, they take a boat trip to the mysterious land.

As Elmer and the Cat search the dragon, they come across different animals, and creatively using the contents of Elmer’s backpack, they distract or subdue the creatures and continue on their way.

Cat (Sharisse Taylor) and the Lion in My Father’s Dragon at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Cat (Sharisse Taylor) and the Lion in My Father’s Dragon at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

As Cat, Taylor’s body-language and mannerisms are gorgeously fluid and unmistakably feline. And the ensemble (Justin Bell, Katherine Cardenas, and Nutsa Tediashvili) is equally impressive, portraying the dragon, monkeys, a boar, and other animals with the help of costumes, designed by Sadie Albert, and puppets, designed by Matthew McGee.

McGee’s puppets are reason enough to see the production. The stunning designs are life-sized and jointed with texture to best replicate the physicality of the animals they represent. A wild cat is illustrated using a giant mask with large, blinking eyes that glow. And an enormous rhinoceros requires multiple actors to manipulate the horned head and lumbering body.

As is often the case for Synetic Theater, the soundtrack of the production stands out on its own. Sound Designer and Resident Composer, Konstantine Lortkipanidze, matches the music to the tone of the adventure, adding tension and wonder to every scene, even with each animal having their own music, accentuating their personalities.

My Father’s Dragon is filled with nonstop excitement and a fun highlight is Elmer being taunted by the monkeys, who are trying to steal his backpack. The music and motion are wild, and the cast is the perfect picture of monkey chaos in expression, posture, and energy.

Director Tolentino’s movement works harmoniously with Lortkipanidze’s compositions in the scene and throughout the production, resulting in a truly magical experience.

Synetic Theater advertises My Father’s Dragon for children five and up, but the raw talent of the performers and creative team make the entirety of the production something for the whole family to gape at and enjoy.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

My Father’s Dragon plays through January 6th, 2019, at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell Street, Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (866) 811-4111, or go online.

Managing Director, Linda Holder; Founding Artistic Director, Paata Tsikurishvili; Co-Founding Associate Artistic Director, Irina Tsikurishvili;  Stage Manager, Tess Wagner; Production Manager, Phill Giggey Sr.; Technical Director, Phil Charlwood; Assistant Stage Manager, Erica Feidelseit; Assistant Costume Designer, Nicole Smith; Audio Engineer, Thomas Sowers