You may not have heard of the picture book “Dragons Love Tacos” by Adam Rubin (Scholastic, 2013), but I am willing to bet that your kids have. I have been taking my children to Oregon Children’s Theatre productions for years, and “Dragons Love Tacos” was by far one our favorites. Even my husband was laughing just as much as our kids were. If your child likes the book, they will love it on stage. The costumes and quirkiness come together to create a visual and comical treat, especially for children ages 3-7.
Those familiar with the story know that the narrator is quite intrusive, helping the boy plan and prepare to host a taco party for dragons because, well . . . dragons love tacos. Translating this first person narrator, who is never seen in the story, to stage was solved through a magical television in which a Neil deGrasse Tyson-esque dragon expert (played by Justin Charles) appears in part 23 of his 24-part documentary on dragons. Charles is the primary character, escaping the television to share his “earth-shattering, mind-blowing, titillating secrets” about dragons with a boy (played by Phillip Wells) and his dog (Ashley Mellinger).
The play begins as a boy struggles to do his homework while his dog keeps his company. Off stage, we hear his mother say she is running out to get dinner and will be back soon. The boy and his dog look for something else to entertain themselves, when a storm outside strikes. They turn on the TV to find the dragon-ology documentary. Younger children will love how the characters over-exaggerate every movement to portray the characters, who are silent, just as they are in the book. Perfectly timed lighting, music, sound effects and large props help to tell the story in place of dialogue.
Two things make this play stand out among other children’s plays I have attended. First, is the amazing costumes and effects. The red dragon’s (Raphael Likes) size was especially fun to watch on stage. Costume designer Sydney Dufka stayed true to the original art of the book while making creations that allowed the actors to dance in a conga line across the stage. Even more amazing was her creation of the yellow dragon (Tess Raunig) to be outfitted for a wheelchair. When the dragons experience “tummy troubles” from accidentally eating spicy salsa, smoke and fire engulf the whole stage.
Second, is the character interaction with the audience. Throughout the play, our dragon expert calls upon the audience to answer questions and help to move the story along. At one point a phone rings loudly and he stops to find out who the culprit is. The plot line is interrupted as the house lights are turned on and a spotlight moves across the theatre looking for the guilty party. Kids were encouraged to call out answers and invited to laugh at the silliness of his mistakes.
Many elements of this stage version are reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat,” with a faithful pet, a messy intruder and a happy ending all before mother comes home. The play is meant to be a whimsical spectacle, but the dragon expert still reminds us that with determination and imagination, amazing things can happen, just like the amazing collaboration between author Adam Rubin and illustrator Daniel Salmieri which brought us the new classic: “Dragons Love Tacos.”
“Dragons Love Tacos” plays now through February 16 at Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland. Go here for showtimes and ticket information.
Cast photos courtesy Oregon Children’s Theatre, by Owen Carey Photography.