The Dragon & the Pearl is a Chinese Theatre play. Thanks to one naughty little monkey, two folktales become inextricably tangled. The first centers around Pearl. With both a wicked stepmother and stepsister to boss her around, she’s a regular Cinderella story; her fairy godmother, however, is more of a benevolent dragon. The second tale centers around a real pearl—the Imperial Pearl. After the monkey steals it from the palace, the emperor sends his sons, San and Ping, to retrieve it from the clutches of the evil dragon. Naturally, the two princes cross paths with the two girls, and regal romance ensues. This exciting play also includes added materials including improvisation and acting exercises, a project for students and questions for discussion and research. You can find these other fantastic plays by August Mergelman in our Script Library: Spider Besider, Fancy Nancy & the Ants, Persephone, The Magpies, By Jove, A Merry Interlude at Camelot, Mum’s the Word, The Vixen, Couth, Pantalone’s New Pantalones, The Honest Impostor, The Weaver Girl & the Cowherd, Polly Peachum & the Pirates, Lady Scottish Play, Penny from Heaven, The Cat Noir, Trade Trade Secrets, Jackie & the Beans Talk, North Paws.
As a playwright, August Mergelman has one simple goal: to bring classical works to the modern audience. It seems that so many of the world’s great dramas are obscured by their own magnitude. August does not believe that any of history’s great playwrights would truly want their works to be intimidating or bewildering. First and foremost, they were showman; they crafted their works to be engaging, challenging, and most importantly, entertaining. As a fourth-generation Colorado native, August is proud of his western heritage, which is manifest in several of his western settings. His works have been featured in the Playwrights’ Showcase of the Western Region and the Rocky Mountain Theatre Association’s Playwrighting Competition.
Excerpt from the play:
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Pearl — an orphan turned servant
Widow — Pearl’s not-so-gracious stepmother
Merah — Pearl’s spoiled, jealous stepsister
Monkey — a clever assistant
Emperor — the benevolent ruler of the land
San — a noble prince
Ping — the less-than-noble heir to the throne
Good Dragon — a granter of wishes
Evil Dragon — a greedy hoarder
Second Storyteller — briefly plays a jeweler
(On a bare stage, there are three chairs and a table, indicating the widow’s house. The widow enters right, dressed in black and wielding a fan. Dressed in green and also with a fan, Merah follows. The Storytellers enter left. When the Storytellers speak, they may take center stage. During the action, they may move completely out of sight or simply away from the playing area.)
Long ago, in a land far away, there lived a widow. In fact, she was a widow twice over—hence the black attire. She had a daughter from her first marriage and a stepdaughter from her second marriage.
Pearl, get in here!
(Enters right, dressed in blue.) Yes, Stepmother?
Merah and I are going the market to look for husbands to match our new fans.
(In unison, Merah and the widow snap open their fans.)
Because you’ve worked so hard today, cooking for us and cleaning the house that I’ve let you live in, I’m going to do the only kind thing and—
(Pearl, Widow, and Merah freeze.)
Pearl was seldom able to leave the house. She desperately wanted to join them.
(Pearl, Widow, and Merah unfreeze.)
—let you have the rest of the afternoon to yourself here for solitude meditation on how you can be a more obedient and efficient stepdaughter.
(Pearl deflates. Merah and the widow exit right.)
Though she put up a cheerful front, on the inside, Pearl was blue—as blue as the deep blue ocean. She missed her loving father, but she always tried to find the good in everyone.
My stepmother has helped me… develop discipline. My stepsister gives me all her hand-me-down clothes, and most of them are pretty nice. Still…
(Monkey enters left, unseen.)
If I had one wish, I’d wish I had the chance to meet a friend. Not one to match my fan—I don’t even have a fan—but someone to match my personality—hardworking and kind. And if I had a second wish, I’d wish that being hardworking and kind actually counted for something—something real.
(Monkey chatters. Pearl answers, nonchalant.)
No, thank you, Monkey. Two wishes are enough. (Suddenly.) Whoa! Who are you?
(Monkey places a note in Pearl’s hand. After a few antics, the monkey exits left.)
Monkey, wait! You needn’t run away so soon! (Reads.) “Visit the Good Dragon. Let your heart lead the way.”
Pearl thought about the consequences she might face for disobeying her stepmother…
(Resolute, Pearl crosses left and exits. Merah peeks her head in right.)
…and then went straight for the kitchen door! Little did she know, however, that she had been watched. Though Merah enjoyed so much more wealth and privilege than Pearl, she was as green as jade—green with envy. Isn’t that the way it always goes?
(Merah takes a few steps on right.)
(Enters right.) Merah, what’s taking you so long? It can’t take this long to fetch a measly parasol.
Mother, you should go on without me. I’m not feeling well. Pearl will take care of me.
Where is she, anyway?
She… uh… went to the well to fetch some water… to make me some tea.
Oh. Well, make sure she doesn’t serve it so hot that it burns your sharp little tongue. It’s your most admirable quality. (Exits right.)
(Follows Pearl left.) I’ll find out what that disobedient little brat is up to.
(Merah exits left. The stagehands rearrange the furniture to represent a room in the palace. The Emperor enters right, dressed in purple, admiring his Imperial Pearl.)
Meanwhile, the Emperor dwelled in his palace, dressed in his regal purple robe, and admired his Imperial Pearl. He wasn’t materialistic, but the giant pearl helped him concentrate on important matters. To the people, the Imperial Pearl symbolized the Mandate of Heaven, the right to rule the land.
(Monkey enters left.)
Though the palace was several days’ journey from the widow’s house, the swift monkey appeared there almost instantly.
Little Monkey, how did you get in here? What’s that piece of paper in your paw? Good little monkey, nice little monkey…
(Approaches, but the monkey avoids being caught. After a colorful chase, the monkey leaves the note and exits right with the Imperial Pearl.)
No, no! Not the pearl! Naughty little monkey! Come back here! (Picks up the note and reads.) “Your precious pearl is now the plaything of the Evil Dragon. Don’t try to recover it. It’s too dangerous.” Heaven help me… Ping! San! Come to me, quickly!
Ping & San
(Enter left.) Yes, Father?
The Imperial Pearl has been stolen by a… Well, I didn’t get a good look at the robber, but I’m sending you two far away, to the land of the Evil Dragon, to get the pearl back.
Ping & San
(They exit right with the Emperor. The stagehands strike the furniture. The scene becomes the top of a mountain, where the Good Dragon, possibly dressed in white, sleeps peacefully. Pearl enters left. Merah follows at a distance.)
In no time at all, Pearl’s heart lead her to the top of a mountain.
(Pearl walks in a sweeping circle to signify the long journey.)
Merah followed at a considerable distance.
(Merah traces the same circle.)
Pearl mustered the courage to awaken the Good Dragon. She found its rounded features reassuring, and sure enough, it welcomed her warmly.
(To Pearl.) Welcome, weary traveler. I have been expecting you. I want to help you with your troubles…
(The dragon hands her a broom.)
But first, would you mind sweeping out my nest?
Pearl was surprised to hear such a request, but she was certainly no stranger to work. As she swept, she told her story. The Good Dragon listened attentively and then spoke.
Certainly, a girl of your age should meet new friends. I can take care of that. Furthermore, I agree that hard work should count for something real. You have the gift of overlooking the bad qualities in people and seeing the good. Pearl is a good name for you, for an oyster does the same thing when it makes a pearl out of its… indigestion. The worse the indigestion, the bigger the pearl. So it will be with you—that is, until the moon is new again. Every time you turn someone’s bad qualities good, a pearl will appear.
Thank you, Good Dragon. You have been most kind. (Exits left.)