On A Dime: “Dragon Lady”

Presented by by A.R.T. Breakout, part-one of the Dragon Cycle
Created and performed by Sara Porklob
Original music by Peter Irving
Band: Hot Damn Scandal
Directed by Andrew Russell

March 20 – April 6
Club Oberon
2 Arrow Street
Cambridge MA, 02138
A.R.T. on Facebook

Critique by Kitty Drexel

(Cambridge, MADragon Lady is the courageous story of how potty-mouthed, gangsta grandma Maria Porkalob traveled from the Philippines to the US as told by her granddaughter Sara Porkalob.  This one woman show/dramatic cabaret is intensely passionate. The events of Maria’s stories might not be exactly true. What is true is the emotional veracity with which it is told.

It is Maria’s 60th birthday. This is the day she chooses to tell Sara her life’s story. Maria Porkalob rose dramatically from impoverished conditions to become a feisty club singer in Manilla. All is well until she sleeps with the wrong man: a dangerous mob boss with kidnapping on his mind. Maria rescues her child but bounces into the arms of an American sailor. Act II finds Maria’s family coping in Maria’s unexplained absence. Her babies are as resilient as their Mama even if they don’t understand why she’s left them. Dragon Lady is told through song and monologue.

Porkalob switches on a dime to portray each character in this production. Her conversations between characters are particularly compelling; her vacillations between characters are smooth and immediate. She establishes age, gender, and nationality within seconds. Even better, we believe her through each transition and back again.

Porkalob plays many rough, unrefined characters (vs. her refined character work) but she sings like a siren. Her timbre is rich and sweet. Her phrasing recalls Judy Garland’s. Her renditions of “Sway” and “Love For Sale” are particularly arresting.

There were moments when everyone was crying. Porkalob was crying; we were crying; the band might have been crying but I couldn’t tell through my tears. While we were communally expressing the inexpressible through tears, Porkalob launched into song. It’s very difficult to sing and cry. The ab control alone can take years to develop. Porkalob did it reflexively. It was beautiful.

Swing band Hot Damn Scandal are a jaunty, fun time. They support Porkalob flawlessly. The Dragon Lady cast album isn’t available yet but is well worth the listen when it is.

We don’t know how much of Dragon Lady occurred exactly as grandma Maria said it did. The unreliability of Porkalob’s narration is part of the appeal. Grandma is a badass who lived to tell her tale after raising five kids alone on a waitresses’ salary while being an immigrant POC in a nation that expects its Americans to be white. She deserves every fantastical upgrade Sara gives her.  

The next play in the cycle is Dragon Mama and runs concurrently with Dragon Lady through April 6, 2019.

Queen’s Note: The briny, fascist despot in the White House is threatening to cut the Nation Endowment for the Arts again. This is the third time since his tragic election that he has done so. TCG and the Performing Arts Alliance have sites to connect you to your politicians. It behooves us to become political to save the art that we love.

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