Dragons are supposed to breathe fire and scare people, right? But the one featured in Chantilly High's children's play, "The Reluctant Dragon," has much better things to do.
"She doesn't want to fight," said sophomore Christina Day, 16. "She'd rather write poetry, make brownies, drink herbal tea and watch the clouds roll by. None of the dragons she knows breathes fire, so she doesn't, either."
Written and directed by Chantilly theater director Ed Monk, "The Reluctant Dragon" will be presented Friday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 4, at 2 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 5, at 2 p.m. in the school auditorium. Tickets are $5 at the door; if there's inclement weather, it'll take place the following weekend at the same times.
Some 58 actors and eight crew members will bring the show to life. Since it's double cast, the dragon will be played as a male by Chris Crowley and as a female by Day. And Monk couldn't be prouder of all his thespians.
"They are an amazingly talented group for being so young," he said. "It's always a thrill to work with the early actors to see the up-and-coming stars we'll be able to work with in future performances."
The dragon lives in a cave atop a mountain and the people in the small village below are afraid of him/her. But the kindness and friendship of a girl named Charity shows them the dragon is just misunderstood and is actually quite nice.
Both Day and Crowley, also a sophomore, auditioned specifically for the part of the dragon. "I gave my dragon an English accent, because of the poetry and tea, and named her Agnes," said Day. "She speaks in really big words and tries to sound sophisticated."
Although maneuvering in a dragon costume, complete with tail, can be tricky, Day said it's fun acting in a children's play because of the large motions she gets to make. And, she said, "Running across the stage during rehearsals, I get a workout because I have to talk to all parts of the audience."
She's pleased that Monk "lets us create our characters' personalities. And if we think of something funny, we can add it in." Day says the play has jokes and comedy for teens and adults, too, and "kids will enjoy the story and fight scene."
Crowley, 15, named his dragon Fred and made him goofy and fun-loving. "His voice goes in and out, like somebody going through puberty," he said. "He sounds like Shaggy in 'Scooby-Doo,'" he said. "Since he doesn't get out much because people are scared of him, he always gets to have new experiences."
Crowley says his role is "an outlet for all my energy that gets piled up during the school day. And it's fun because, unlike with human characters, you can go all out and do so much more with your legs and arms — really weird movements."
He said the toughest part was developing his character's background: "He's a lonely dragon who just wants to be with people and other creatures and make friends." But he enjoys being in a children's play because "they really get into it and think we really are the characters we're portraying. And we get to talk to the kids in the hall, afterward."
Playing Charity are sophomores Alice Besterman and Kate McGinnis. Charity's about 10 and lives in the village. "She's a farm girl, but doesn't fit in," said Besterman, 16. "She doesn't want to work on the farm; she'd rather write poetry and read. She wants to be a knight and fight dragons when she grows up, but she can't because she's a girl."
Then one day while walking in the woods, her father trips over the dragon's tail. He then tells everyone there's a dragon nearby. "Charity's excited to meet a real, live, fire-breathing dragon," said Besterman. "But she discovers she's not evil — she's kind and likes to write poetry, just like her — so they have a bond."
They become friends, but a real knight is coming to slay the dragon. "So Charity runs around trying to convince everyone the dragon's nice and should be spared," said Besterman. "There's a big battle and a trick ending."
She says her character's "cheery and optimistic and sees the good in people. The moral of the story is, you have to get to know someone before you judge them."
She believes the audience will like the dragon best "because he's the most memorable and out-there character. I love doing children's shows because they're fun and crazy, and you don't have to be perfect and serious — you can be goofy, funny and entertaining."
McGinnis, 15, says her Charity character is also misunderstood. "She likes to read and write, but her parents want her to grow up and be a farmer," said McGinnis. "But they're crazy — they polish pigs, darn chickens and pickle gopher eggs for dinner."
She likes seeing the children's faces in the audience because "they get really involved in what's going on." She's good friends with Crowley and says it's fun to "play off him" in the show. "We're all a close-knit group," she said.
Because the dragon runs, falls and makes funny noises, she said that, "Whether Chris or Christina is playing him, the kids will like him." Doing a children's play, she said, "You really get the kids' vibe and energy — they're awesome."
Junior Michael Leonberger, 16, plays the knight. "He likes poetry a lot, and it gets in the way of his heroics," said Leonberger. "He's hired to slay the dragon, but he's swayed when he learns the dragon is a poet, too. They eventually meet and share poetry."
He says his role is neat because "it's a paradox. A knight is supposed to be brave and really masculine, but he's living in his own reality." It's Leonberger's first play and he loves the role because "I get to be sort of crazy, and regular life doesn't afford that opportunity."
Besides, he said, in a children's play, "you get to be over-the-top, and it's cool to be somebody else. And I think the audience will like the energy and liveliness of the play."
Sophomore Mike Tea, 15, plays the squire. "He's the knight's righthand man," said Tea. "He keeps the knight focused on what he's supposed to do. He's greedy and wants to get the money for killing the dragon, but the knight is thinking of backing down."
He said his character's a pessimist who makes fun of people, but also provides comic relief. "I give him a wacky, not normal, obnoxious voice," said Tea. "In a children's play, you can do outrageous stuff and the kids love it."
Portraying Mayor Leech is sophomore Josie Warren, 15 1/2. "She's really dumb and pronounces everything with a 'W,' instead of a 'V,' like 'wanilla' and 'winegar,'" said Warren. "She's clueless and blames everything on her aide, Jenkins. She depends on him to tell her what to do."
Although it's tough switching between being both dumb and serious, she said, "I love it because it's a funny character and it's fun to come up with silly stuff for her to do."
Freshman Michael Poandl, 14, plays Charity's dad, David Cowfarmerman. "We iron the tomatoes and darn the chickens," he said. "My character's impressionable and not very bright. Two salesmen sell him an electric, moose-drying machine and a sheep-shampooing machine."
In addition, said Poandl, "He's obsessed with masculine empowerment. He's always trying to get in touch with his inner child. I love playing this character; I was really glad I got the role — especially since it's my first play at Chantilly. "
Sophomore Eddie Monk Jr., 16, also plays the dad. "He tries to be macho, but the slightest insult makes him crumble," he explained. "He also exaggerates. When he finds the dragon, he uses these huge words to describe him to everyone to make him seem bigger than he really is."
Right after the dad acts proud, said Monk, "I make him whiny and complaining. After taking a shot to his ego, he just breaks."
Monk's also delighted to be in the show. As the director's son, he said, "I've been watching plays since I was little — so many years of seeing children's shows, since I was 2 — and now I get to be in one. It's exhilarating and I love to make the little kids laugh." Also because of that experience, he says he knows what his dad expects of his cast and "I try to do it to the best of my ability."
Freshman Dana O'Connor, 14, plays mom Mary Cowfarmerman, who's exasperated and in charge of her house. "She does chores and nobody wants to help her," said O'Connor. "She's so warn out that she can become frazzled and upset very easily. I make her Southern, and I think my mom would like her because she wants us to do the chores."
She says children will identify with Charity because "kids have big imaginations. And sometimes people don't listen to you, but you just have to speak up."
Senior Jamie King, 18, also plays the mayor. "She's kind of absent-minded and has no idea what's going on," said King. "She's spacey, but everyone puts up with her. And she relies on Jenkins to do things, but takes all the credit."
She's also thrilled to be in the play. "Children's shows are good opportunities to develop your own character," she said. "And the entire show is real, slapstick comedy."