Occupation: Dragonslayer began life as a commission from the Joseph Papp New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre.  An embryonic version, Occupation: Troubadour, was presented as a Christmas musical by Trenton's professional theatre, Passage Theatre.  In that version, Chris was a figure of enigmatic goodness who appeared on Christmas Eve to restore the dreams of simple people.  After the horrors of 9/11 -- not the least of which was the behavior of our politicians -- the writer was reminded that there still are true heroes in the world who deserve to be commemorated.


Occupation: Dragonslayer unfolds at a doomed 24/7 diner near Ground Zero. Heeding the clarion cries for a return to “business as usual,” the profiteers are moving in, cashing in on the very tax breaks that were designed to help the little guy. Luxury condos are in the future for this leftover bit of real estate which served as a haven for the rescue and recovery workers. Not only are the staff losing their jobs, but also their identity as a family, forged in trauma:  Harriet, the tough-as-putty manager, whose dream is to open her own Italian restaurant with opera singers as waiters; Antonio, the immigrant chef who shares her fantasies of culinary glory; Jenny, the waitress, an aspiring actress in love with a poet; Felipe, the busboy, who finds in the diner staff people who treat him like he matters. Visitors to the Diner this magic Christmas Eve include “The Duchess,” a vision in faded finery who touts with her a collection of old magazines that remind her how the world looked in happier times; Kiki, a lady of the evening with a romantic soul; and The Forgotten One, a woman who carries her cherished possessions in a shopping bag, included a faded Xerox photo of someone she’s been trying to locate since 9/11 -- over a year ago; Mara, a runaway young girl, searching for love in all the wrong places. They are joined by Major Beauvine, a Salvation Army major and her devoted carolers, the clueless Terrence who is fascinated by Kiki; and the irrepressible Ruelle, who has a chatty relationship with the Lord.  And most poignant of all is Gil, a rough-hewn rescue worker who lost his job and family due to his obsession with "The Pile."  He has no place else to go this Christmas Eve.

Into this world wander two strangers: Chris, a mysterious young man in a sidewalk Santa suit and FDNY t-shirt, searching for shreds of his lost identity -- he remembers nothing since 9/11, yet seems to know these people and carries a redeeming present for each. And then there is Damon Slade, real estate mogul extraordinaire (accompanied by his malevolent driver Scorpio) whose limo breaks down outside the very diner he plans to tear down in the coming weeks. Besides taunting the “losers” who are going to be unemployed because of his entrepreneurial vision, Slade recognizes the Duchess as his old cleaning lady from the Towers. This revelation brings another -- that it was the Duchess who begged the firefighter Chris “Don’t go up the stairs, there’s a dragon up the stairs” on that fateful sky-of-blue September day. Chris didn’t listen, while Slade was pushing aside everyone in his way to make his escape. Unphased by the miracle of Chris’s inexplicable return, Slade makes a “Bright Lights, Big City” offer to Mara, which she accepts. She leaves with Slade, but before she enters the limo she has a mystical experience, in which Slade and Scorpio morph into dragons out to devour her. She runs back to the diner for refuge, but Chris has disappeared -- leaving no footprints in the snow. The patrolman on the beat, Officer Stepanek, enters to report a mysterious explosion, a limo that seemed to vaporize in front of his eyes. Chris has accomplished his purpose: the evil Slade is gone, a hope for redemption survives.

Steering clear of both TV-style eulogy and a re-emergent cynicism, Occupation: Dragonslayer reminds us that heroes exist in every age -- as do the dark dragons of opportunism and corruption who must be battled despite the temptation to settle back into complacency. In the course of an hour and a quarter, comedy and tragedy merge to create a work of genuine musical theatre -- and humanity.

Now, when the warlords rule the earth,
Let a simple child's birth
Be a call to make the killing cease.
Reminding all, by the gods that each adores,
That there are no "holy" wars.
Let them hear our sacred cries for peace.