Drew Vandiver is an extraordinary raconteur, utterly charming and enormously bright. For an hour plus in his theatrical memoir, Here There Be Dragons, he commands the stage with tales of his career from early childhood in Georgia to his current life in California as a writer/performer. Eschewing W. C. Fields’ famous proscription, “Never work with children or animals,” he shares the stage with an adorable creature named Commodore, who, according to his whimsical bio in the program, is a Ukrainian refugee rescue dog. Not only does he share the stage with Commodore, he shares Commodore with the audience, who take every opportunity to reach out and pet him as he roams free around the room. An obedient comrade, Commodore comes when called and sits on cue. Oddly enough this is not distracting. Commodore also speaks in a kind of broken, accented, rudimentary English, although I’m pretty sure I saw Drew’s lips move.
Mr. Vandiver takes the audience on an indirect journey through the salient moments of his life, shifting back and forth in time in a non-sequential format. This allows him to reveal the many crises, mistakes and triumphs of his extraordinary life in a captivating way. He studied theatre, literature and mathematics at Piedmont College, Oxford University, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he both wowed and dismayed his teacher, Derek Jacobi. From his bio, “he has been a sawmill worker, truck driver, bouncer, high school math teacher, bodyguard, line cook, accountant, drug dealer, hotel desk clerk, actor, writer and manager of the world’s largest Victoria’s Secret.” He is also as an Irene Ryan National Scholar.
With deep emotion he recounts his affection for his remarkable mother, his troubled relationship with his father, and the many associations both good and bad with girls and women over the years. He reveals his unconventional spiritual awakening that included long distance consultations with an Oregon psychic, as well as “hours of hiking, a chakra alignment videotape by Shirley MacLaine he found on eBay, and volunteering at a local recovery house.” Here There Be Dragons is the triumphant story of one man’s journey through the tangles of life. In early childhood, his special, creative intelligence and sensitivities made him at first an outcast in school, but later he became a teenaged lothario, although I doubt he slept with every girl in high school. Later, he shrank back from some of the many opportunities for artistic achievement that came his way. Why? He had a lack of understanding of the possibilities and what he really wanted
My favorite story was about “Drewville.” As a child, he created in the basement of the family home, a town made from card stock with houses and streets and stores. When his mother asked him who lived in the houses, he was forced to create characters with lives and backstories, written and stored in a thick volume. When his father discovered the creation, he carped about wasted money, causing Drew to destroy the town and burn the volume – at once, a triumph and a tragedy
It would be my wish that Drew Vandiver continues to hone and expand Here There Be Dragons, which closed last night at Sacred Fools Theatre. The final audience cheered and applauded long after he and Commodore had left the stage. I would like to see it again and spend more time with this man and his wonderful dog.