Nikki Soldner plays Elsa and Seth Shaffer portrays Lancelot in The Dragon, which opens tomorrow at the University of Toledo.
Russian author Evgeny Schwarz wrote a play in 1942 featuring dragons, fair maidens, heroes, and a host of other stock fairy tale characters. It had its first performance in 1943, and three or four shows later, it was banned by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
Stalin probably didn't have anything against fairy tales, Vladimir Prahcharov says, but Schwarz's The Dragon wasn't just any fable. It was a satire on tyranny, and although Schwarz wrote it about Nazis, it made Stalin exceedingly uncomfortable.
The 64-year-old play still works today, says Prahcharov, visiting assistant professor of theater at the University of Toledo, because through the medium of fairy tales, Schwarz is criticizing corruption in high places.
"If you put any politician in it, he'll probably see himself," Prahcharov says.
The UT Department of Theatre and Film opens the production tomorrow and has performances scheduled through April 23.
Among the characters are talking animals, townspeople, the knight Lancelot, and the medieval king Charlemagne, who forced Christianity on great swathes of Europe.
Borrowing characters from many sources is a tradition in Russian literature that goes back to the 19th-century author Alexander Pushkin, who is considered the father of modern Russian literature, Prahcharov says.
Originally written in Russian, The Dragon has been translated several times, but Prahcharov commissioned his own translation. "I asked my son, who graduated in journalism from Boston College, to translate it and make the dialogue much more contemporary."
The Dragon boasts a large cast and about eight musicians. Although it wasn't written as a musical, the UT production has been turned into one. Olga Rua wrote the music for the show as her senior composition, and theater major Bill Lancz, whose play The Jewelry Store was presented at UT last month, wrote the lyrics.
Key roles are played by UT students Alex Klinefelter and Matthew Seiser as the dragons, Seth Shaffer as Lancelot, Patrick Hickey as Charlemagne, Nikki Soldner as Elsa, Pete Cross as the burgomaster, Zach Durnell and Gordon James as, respectively, the cat and the donkey, Abby Youngs as the peddler, and Keith Kolasinski as the blacksmith.
Marketa Trosterova-Fantova of the Czech Republic designed the costumes and sets, and Prahcharov says her work set the tone for the entire show. The designer, who earned her bachelor of fine arts degree at the Theater Academy in Prague and her master's from Wayne State University, is now based in Dallas and is at UT as a visiting guest artist.
The Dragon has many layers, Prahcharov says, and can be enjoyed by all ages. The story is easy to follow, and if the political satire goes over the heads of young audience members, they still can enjoy the music, the costumes, and the donkey and the cat.
"The Dragon" opens at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the Center Theatre in the University of Toledo's Center for Performing Arts. Other performances are
7:30 p.m. Saturday and April 19-23 and 2 p.m. April 23. A signed performance is scheduled on April 20. Tickets are $13 for the general public, $11 for seniors and UT employees, and $9 for UT students. Information: 419-530-2375.