Original play uses fable to share moral

  • Meghan O’Neill as the dragon and Simone Labell as Marta in “A Dragon’s Tail.” Courtesy of Joel Mercier

  • The cast rehearses a scene from “A Dragon’s Tail.” Courtesy of Joel Mercier

  • Saint George, played by Noah Negron, does battle with the dragon in a rehearsal for “A Dragon’s Tail.” Courtesy of Joel Mercier

  • CJ Paquette as Lady Darkwood sings as her ladies-in-waiting, Lucille and Helena, played by Bailey Kirn and Lucie Speide, watch. Courtesy of Joel Mercier

Monitor staff
Published: 3/1/2017 5:17:55 PM

An old story is imbued with a more modern moral in the N.H. Theatre Factory’s original musical A Dragon’s Tail.

Theatre Factory Artistic Director Joel Mercier wrote the play and music based on Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon.

In the show, a dragon (played by Meghan O’Neill) takes up residence on a hillside overlooking a village. Most of the villagers jump to conclusions, thinking the dragon is there to cause nothing but trouble.

However, Marta (Simone Labell), a little girl living in the village, goes to meet the dragon and discovers it’s a tea-drinking, poetry-writing creature, Mercier said.

But it’s too late, the village has called upon Saint George (Troy Placey) the dragon-slayer.

Mercier said the old fairytales and legends were written for a different audience but have elements of a moral applicable to kids today.

A Dragon’s Tail teaches the concept of not judging a book by its cover.

“It’s really got a heavy level of anti-bullying in it,” Mercier said.

His favorite song is “Different is Just Fine,” which he sees as a summary of the message. The dragon sings the short solo to Marta about why people are uncomfortable with those who are different and how that’s their problem and not her’s.

In addition to the dragon being a target, Marta is also teased for being different than her peers.

“I think the show is really fun and has a good message,” said CJ Paquette, 16, of Boscawen, who portrays Lady Darkwood, an adviser to Prince Hubert (Noah Negron).

Lady Darkwood tells the prince is a danger to the kingdom, CJ said. That’s not the truth; she really wants one of the dragon’s scales to complete a magic potion that will let her rule the kingdom as queen.

CJ has been performing since she was in preschool and with the N.H. Theatre Factory for three years.

The N.H. Theatre Factory was been writing its own shows for the past two years as a way to adapt scripts to youth performers who only have eight weeks of rehearsal time. Mercier said it also gives them the flexibility to adjust the story to address issues kids face – like bullying.

“I think it’s really cool,” CJ said of the original shows. “You don’t have anything to live up to. . . . and you can make it how you want.

“You just have to go for it and make it your own.”

CJ’s favorite scene is the song “Magic Spell,” where she plots her plan to usurp the prince.

“It’s a lot of fun to perform,” she said.

The challenge, CJ and Mercier said, is that there aren’t references to look to.

The show is part of the Stage Setters youth program, which, in addition to rehearsals, brings in master instructors to teach theater techniques.

This year, Amanda Pawlik taught pantomime, used in the dragon’s movements, and Alex Jacobs taught stage combat.

The cast range in age from 8 to 16; CJ’s sister Elizabeth, who is 10, is also in the show. Performers come from Manchester, Derry, Londonderry, Amherst, Merrimack, Hooksett, Concord, Boscawen and Barrington.

“We all come together,” CJ said. “We all have a good time.”

Mercier said he hopes the shows open up a conversation for families to talk to children about bullying and judgment. He hopes he can teach others to reach out to people who are different instead of pushing them aside.

Performances will be Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. at the Derry Opera House, 29 W. Broadway, Derry. Tickets are $16; to purchase in advance, visit nhtheatrefactory.org.

(Sarah Kinney can be reached at skinney@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @sekwrites.)

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