A Story by the Storyteller—a Review of “Dragon Lady”

By Claire DeMarco

Sara Porkalob invites you into her world to see, hear, and feel her stories about the maternal side of her family in “Dragon Lady.” Her maternal grandmother, Maria the “Dragon Lady” is the center of this adventure into her past.

As Maria’s 60th birthday approaches, she feels the need to pass on details of her life and her confidant is Sara Porkalob. As her story unwinds, its apparent that she has quite a few secrets to unveil, from a brief career as a singer in a tawdry club to a pregnancy (the child is Sara’s mother, also named Maria), a kidnapping and a murder. But through all the drama associated with her life, Maria is a fighter and a survivor (with a sense of humor).

Maria’s life changes again as this young Filipina woman immigrates to the Pacific Northwest. Her oldest child (Porkalob’s mother) is to care for her siblings. Now, without a husband, Maria works several jobs, often leaving her young daughter in charge of not only the running of the household but also caring for her siblings. The ramifications of this situation are that young Maria often isn’t able to attend school. This situation causes the resentment and rift that exists between the young and old Maria. That tension is highlighted at Grandmother Maria’s 60th birthday party.

Sara Porkalob goes full throttle on stage at the O’Reilly Theater.

Porkalob’s performance is brilliant, stunning, and creative! This is not just a solo performance, but many as Porkalob plays the parts of those relatives and acquaintances who are part of her narrative.

Her timing is impeccable as she smoothly reinvents herself as her grandmother, mother, her mother’s young brothers, and any character that’s part of her story. Reinventing also includes not only the vocal pitch of those she’s portraying, but their unique mannerisms as well. Great comedic timing, excellent facial expressions, and a beautiful voice elevate those roles.

There are not enough superlatives to describe this unique, stimulating, and wonderful performance by Sara Porkalob.

Porkalob created the Dragon Cycle, a trilogy of works about her grandmother (“Dragon Lady”), her mother (“Dragon Mama”), and Porkalob herself (“Dragon Baby”–still in development).

The set is striking with a modicum of stage props. The center stage is highlighted and framed as an intricate lounge setting for musical numbers. Different stage levels allow Porkalob to move up and down, often showing a different location and/or time as her story unwinds.

Excellent music by Hot Damn Scandal: Pete Irving, Jimmy Austin and Mickey Stylin.

Kudos to Scenic Designer Sasha Jin Schwartz.

Expert direction by Andrew Russell.


“Dragon Lady” is a production of the Pittsburgh Public Theater. Performances run from February 7 through February 25. For more information, click here.

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