The New York Times review of “Dragons Love Tacos,” the children’s book written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri, asserts that the creators possess a “kooky sensibility.” But really, you just need to read the book’s title to realize that.
Just ask Eric Van Den Heuvel, who plays Man in the Suit in the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre production of the tale’s theatrical version. “Everything is kooky,” Van Den Heuvel said as he and five other cast members spoke before a rehearsal on a recent subzero evening. “There is a lot of physical humor, especially from the dragons,” he said. “And ‘Dragons Love Tacos,’ the title itself, is kooky, and it really flows in that manner of nothing makes sense but nothing has to make sense.”
Playgoers can see for themselves just how kooky at the performances, which are at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, and 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, in the RCU Theatre at Pablo Center at the Confluence. But the entire group, all of Eau Claire, agreed the word fits.
Dustin Haugle, who plays the White Dragon, said the description applies “in every sense of the word.”
Allie Kangas, cast as the Red Dragon, agreed, adding “goofy” sums it up as well. “It’s definitely a thing of its own as far as the dragons’ personalities,” she said. Kangas is participating in the show as an actress and an intern in the costume shop.
Kooky also gets the nod from Owen Hilton, performing the role of Boy. “Yeah, pretty much, because there’s a lot of the boy kind of giving up really easily. And the boy has a lot of fun things,” he said.
All in the name
For director Wayne Marek, the title itself served as a catalyst to putting this production on the schedule.
“The first thing that brought it to our attention was the title,” Marek said in a phone interview. “Plain and simple the title. Because it’s just a catchy title, a funny title; catches your eye. … It’s really just a fun title to say.”
And in this case, you can judge a book by the title on its cover. “It’s got dragons and coming to a taco party, the silliness of that and how much fun they have,” Marek said. “And who doesn’t like dragons, and who doesn’t love tacos. And you put those two together, and the juxtaposition of the dragons and tacos. How could this not be a funny script?”
Cast member Evan Renaghan, who portrays Leroy the dog, said the show has humor going for it. “I liked that it was really funny,” he said. “Most of the stuff that’s in this play is in the book, and that’s what I like about it.”
But while the book holds particular joys, the stage adaptation will be its own animal — or dragon, to be specific.
“I think it comes to life a little bit more,” Marek said. “It’s 3D rather than the flat page so you can see the dragons in the book and you can see they’re dancing around at a taco party, but it’s not the same as the dragons are right there in front of you alive dancing.
“Yes there’s a picture of the dragons dancing in the book,” he added. “Now you get to see their taco dance. You get to see them having silly fun, eating the tacos, that kind of stuff.”
The silliness factor served as a draw for Tyler Hahn, the Blue Dragon in the show. He had never performed in a play aimed at younger children but had wanted to try the challenge. “Dragons Love Tacos” is recommended for kindergartners through second grade; in other words, the entire family can enjoy it.
“It’s just a simple story, but it has to be fun,” Hahn said. “It has to keep them excited the whole time.”
Thus, it’s a fast-paced show. “(W)e’re trying to keep their attention for over an hour, and that’s a lot of fun to just be zany and crazy and upbeat and never stop,” he said. “That’s the whole thing; you just never stop.”
Hahn also pointed out that while the story isn’t complicated, it poses challenges for the production team.
“Some people might say this is just a kids show; it’s simple,” he said. “But it’s not in any way, shape or form. It’s a multitude of costuming, sound effects, prop work, scenery projection work, special effects.”
Added Kangas: “We had an entire weekend where we were just making tacos.”
The scenery projections reflect one benefit of Pablo Center at the Confluence. “That’s something we never had the technical capability of doing either here at The Oxford (the Children’s Theatre’s home base) or at The State (Theatre),” Marek said.
For all the fun the show is designed to produce, there’s a not-so-kooky reason to present it. The fact that “Dragons Love Tacos” is suitable for some of the youngest potential theatergoers means it’s a show that could be some audience members’ first-ever stage production — which could spark their interest in one day participating in the fun of theater.
“All the time,” Marek said. “We hear that a lot. … ‘I saw such and such a show ... in third grade,’ and then when I got to be in sixth grade I auditioned for a show.’ Or ‘I took classes.’ Or something like that.”