Entertainment » Theatre

The Golden Dragon

by Colleen Cottet
Tuesday Jan 28, 2014
Daria Harper, Matt Fletcher, Deanna Myers, David Hamilton and Noah Sullivan
Daria Harper, Matt Fletcher, Deanna Myers, David Hamilton and Noah Sullivan   (Source:Jonathan L. Green)

At the Golden Dragon restaurant in an unnamed city, immigrant kitchen workers race to serve up Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese cuisine. Orders are shouted out staccato-like: "Thai soup with chicken, coconut milk, Thai ginger, button mushrooms, lemon grass-hot!" It's enough to make one salivate in hungry anticipation as the stories of these people, their customers and their neighbors unfold before us.

Salivate, that is, until a kitchen mishap causes a curious health hazard to fly through the air and land in someone's soup. The humanity and humor of the stories told in Sideshow Theatre Company's "The Golden Dragon" promises to deeply move you; the nature of the aforementioned hazard promises to make you think twice about ordering the soup.

"The Golden Dragon," written by European playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig, features an ensemble of five actors, each playing multiple roles (nearly 20 characters in all) throughout the overlapping vignettes that center on the activity of a popular Asian eatery. Besides the kitchen workers (featuring a young Chinese boy whose aching tooth becomes a pivotal plot point), we see an old man pondering life as he approaches the end of it.

There is a young couple grappling with an unwanted pregnancy, and a middle-aged couple coming to grips with infidelity. There is a pair of flight attendants, one of whom shares her life with a man she disdainfully terms "the Barbie-fucker." The other flight attendant orders the fateful soup, propelling her not to a phone call to the health department, but on a journey of touching and haunting introspection.

There is a cryptic shopkeeper, who brags that his store holds everything a man could want, and frighteningly enough, does. At one point, we even get to meet the Chinese boy's family back home through his painful tooth, and witness just how much fear and hope journeyed with him to this crowded and busy restaurant kitchen, all the way on the other side of the world.

Intertwined between these human stories is a fable of an ant and a cricket. The cricket, female, is alone and destitute; winter promises to set in and destroy her. The ant, male, has the life-saving resources of shelter and food and hearth to offer her. An offer is made, but not generously so, and we come to pity the cricket as her vulnerability is exploited again and again, more so when the true nature of this fable is brought to life in human terms before us.

Gender, age and ethnicity hold no boundaries for the performers of "The Golden Dragon," as young play old, male play female, black play white, even human play insect with nary a pause between.

Gender, age and ethnicity hold no boundaries for the performers of "The Golden Dragon," as young play old, male play female, black play white, even human play insect with nary a pause between. Stage directions are often spoken aloud, and the actors go back and forth between dialogue and narrative, a theatrical device that keeps with the frenetic pace of the work.

The cast of "The Golden Dragon" (Deanna Myers, Matt Fletcher, David Lawrence Hamilton, Daria Harper, Noah Sullivan) deserve high praise for their performances. It is no simple feat to play multiple characters in such a high-paced show ("The Golden Dragon" runs roughly 70 minutes with no intermission), and the unconventional use of language could make for awkward transitions when employed by a less skilled cast.

Additionally, the actors (under the direction of Jonathan L. Green and Marti Lyons) do not fall prey to silly theatrical devices such as stereotypical accents or vocal inflections, nor were there costume changes during the show to try to evoke their characters (the use of which, I believe, would have been distracting in itself and slowed the pace of the show considerably).

Costumes (designed by Kristin DeiTos) were kept simple and appropriate to each actor, not to the characters they portrayed, thus allowing the actors to rely upon the play's often poetic language and their own suspension of disbelief to carry the audience through a character's story. This was most powerfully done during Myers' monologue as the ailing Chinese boy, now deceased, as he journeys through frigid water and immeasurable time and space back to his home and family. I was moved nearly to tears.

Praise is also to be offered to scenic designer William Boles, lighting designer John Kelly, and sound designer Christopher M. LaPorte for their skills in the creation of a world that supports the surrealistic tone of "The Golden Dragon" without overpowering it.

"The Golden Dragon" speaks volumes about how the boundaries of language, culture, and commerce have become blurred in this age of globalization. How does this affect our interactions with our neighbors, our roles in the world, our opportunities for growth and happiness? All are questions powerfully brought to mind in "The Golden Dragon" with both humor and sorrow, and with no pretense of simplicity, nor promise of easy resolution.

Just don't order the soup.

"The Golden Dragon" runs through Feb. 23 at Victory Gardens’ Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave in Chicago. For information or tickets, call 773-871-3000 or visit www.victorygardens.org.

Colleen Cottet is a freelance writer and playwright, having written for such diverse publications as American Teen, Veterinary Technician, and the Journal of Ordinary Thought. Her work has been performed at the Chicago Park District and About Women. She resides in Chicago.


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