Something about seeing kids perform on stage really seems to resonate with kids watching them. At least this was the case with Owen at Encore Stage & Studio’s latest production, Darius the Dragon & Rap-Punzel, running at Artisphere’s Spectrum Theatre through January 15. The two-play production is performed entirely by youth actors — quite impressively, at that — just as Encore’s “Theatre by Kids, For Kids” slogan promises.
Owen and I had a chance to see the performances this past weekend, and he was not only thoroughly engrossed in the shows, but also quite interested to know more about the actors themselves, like who played which characters and how old they were, something he’s never asked to do for adult-acted shows. It was clear this youth theatre experience was special for him. Compared to the older actors he’s used to seeing, these were his peers, people he could somewhat relate to.
But it wasn’t just the kids in the audience who were entertained by the shows; it was obvious the adults enjoyed them, too. Along with appreciating the talent of such a young cast, there are underlying messages about environmental issues and a fun, hip twist on a classic fairytale, elements that appeal to adult sensibilities.
As for the production, it begins with Darius the Dragon, a one-hour play about time-warped medieval dragon whose cave in a 21st-century city park is about to be bulldozed. He befriends Jenny, who introduces him to her friends, and with their help, he crusades to stop the construction and save their park/his home. Darius and Jenny have a great rapport, and the police chief and mayor (Darius’ adversaries-turned-supporters) are quite an amusing duo. The rest of the cast does an excellent job of creating the city setting by wearing cars to create traffic and playing a choreographed basketball game.
Rap-punzel begins after a 15-minute intermission, and it takes no time at all to get into the groove of the show, and I mean that literally. As the cast presents the classic story of the girl with the long hair raised by a witch in a high tower as her parents’ remittance for stealing from her garden, all of the dialogue is rapped. And it’s executed with such perfect rhythm and rhyme, I found myself bobbing my head along to it and saw Owen doing some small hip hop moves in his seat. This 30-minute rendition on a tale we all know well was, perhaps, the most creative I’ve ever seen — and heard.
The cast of kids took their bows to very enthusiastic applause. And they made their way from the stage to the lobby, where kids who saw the show lined up to get their autographs — no doubt, a thrill for both audience and actors.
Darius the Dragon & Rap-Punzel is on stage at Artisphere’s Spectrum Theatre, located at 1611 N. Kent Street in Arlington, for one more weekend. There are performances on Friday (1/13) at 7:30pm, Saturday (1/14) at 11am and 3pm, and Sunday (1/15) at 3pm. Tickets are $12/adults, $10/kids and can be purchased online. The production is recommended for ages 4 and older. Six-year-old Owen gave it two thumbs up!