Cassandra Redding segued from acting in local and regional theater productions to a career in early childhood education in which she likes to introduce her students to the arts.
She’s made the same introductions to her own children, with whom she’ll share the stage in the upcoming Montgomery Playhouse production of “The Reluctant Dragon.”
Kenneth Grahame wrote the children’s story – which Walt Disney based a film on in 1941 – about forgoing prejudgment and promoting understanding, in 1898.
Ed Monk has “very loosely adapted” the original story, said Loretto McNally, a board member of the Playhouse who is directing.
“I love this play,” said McNally. “The story, which has been around for a while, is, about a dragon who’s not interested in doing battle with knights or in breathing fire on anyone.”
The villagers in the area surrounding the dragon’s home have their misgivings, but the main human character, named Charity (played by Jade Fraction) goes up on the mountain to get acquainted with the dragon and finds out they have a mutual interest in poetry and other non-aggressive behaviors,” said McNally.
Still wary, the villagers hire a knight to vanquish the dragon. The trouble is, the would-be warrior also likes poetry.
“I won’t tell you the exact resolution,” said McNally, “but everyone finds hope and fulfillment and a loving way to treat each other.”
But don’t think “The Reluctant Dragon” is all either child’s play or serious messages.
In his adaptation, Monk has done some updating as well, said McNally. This includes “political zingers, puns, and sight gags.”
There’s also some absurdity, such as moose-drying machines and traveling salesmen selling “dubious products” to the villagers, she added.
Despite her teaching career, Redding never gave up performing completely. She has appeared in productions at the Frederick Ensemble Theatre – her home town – and closer to her current Rockville home at the Montgomery Playhouse.
These include such serious plays as “Proof,” “The Glass Menagerie,” and “Antigone.”
Redding didn’t come to “The Reluctant Dragon” with any particular role in mind, but because she’s previously performed with her children – now 10 and 12 – in lighter stuff, such as “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” she wanted to try out for a show in which her children could also participate.
She also has a nostalgic connection to the Arts Barn in Gaithersburg, where Montgomery Playhouse performs. McNally had worked there “back in the day.”
Still, she was happy to walk away with the title role.
“I’ve always loved dragons and poetry,” Redding said.
She felt an immediate sense comfort when, at the audition, she was asked to recite poetry instead of lines from the play.
The one thing that remained uncertain at interview time was the kind of costume Redding would be wearing.
“It’s not like some theater with children when someone might say, ‘Poof, you’re a dragon,’ without anything changing,” she laughed. “But I expect to be masked and to have some restricted movements.”
One thing of which she is sure is her affection for the play and its more serious message.
“It’s one of tolerance,” Redding said. “It’s OK to be different. But the message isn’t heavy-handed. It’s a family-friendly romp, even a little silly.”
Montgomery Playhouse, which began life in 1929, is the oldest theater in the County. The all-volunteer organization has been associated with the Art Barn since 2001.
“We’re all lovers of the arts but come from many different occupations,” said Loretto.
Incidentally, the Playhouse is still looking to fill the board position of artistic director – for those not afraid of hard work.
“The Reluctant Dragon” runs Jan. 5 through Jan. 21 and performs at the Arts Barn in Arts on the Green, 311 Kent Square Road in Gaithersburg. For tickets, call 301-258-6394. For information about the theater, visit www.montgomeryplayhouse.org.