All is golden indeed for ‘Dragon’
5 people morph into many more in Sideshow’s rousing new play
Five Asian workers scramble to fill orders in the hot, cramped little kitchen of a Chinese/ Thai/ Vietnamese restaurant in a large, unspecified city in Europe. Located in the same building as the restaurant is a well-stocked convenience store, and above it, several floors of apartments inhabited by a diverse group of people whose often dissonant lives intersect in intriguing ways.
Sounds realistic enough. But there is a dark and disturbing magic at work in this environment conjured by contemporary German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig for his astonishing 65-minute fever dream of a play, “The Golden Dragon.”
Though brief, this incredibly intense work (whose title echoes the name of the restaurant) is completely satisfying. Credit the enthralling production by Sideshow Theatre Company, expertly directed by Jonathan L. Green and Marti Lyons, ingeniously designed by William Boles and performed by an easily morphing cast of five who very matter-of-factly play against ethnicity, gender and type. Also take note of David Tushingham’s superb translation of a play whose language can shift on a dime, from the fiercely poetic to the sharply colloquial.
In some ways reminiscent of “Wings of Desire,” the 1987 Wim Wenders film, “The Golden Dragon” is about the pain, distress, grief and yearning of a cross-section of isolated, alienated, fightened and sometimes brutal people caught up, in one way or another, in the dislocation and trafficking of our globalized existence. Yet while life can be unutterably cruel, some spirit of home, connection, love and ultimate peace also manages to hover in the air.
The story begins to cook in the restaurant kitchen as a recent immigrant — an impoverished young Chinese man (played by the gifted Deanna Myers) — screams in agony from a toothache. Unable to afford a dentist, the kitchen staff plies him with vodka and yanks the tooth. The result is both tragic and surreal.
Meanwhile, a grandfather (Matt Fletcher) craves youth. His granddaughter (Daria Harper) is involved in a relationship with a man (Noah Sullivan) who feels trapped by the news that she is pregnant. Two stewardesses (David Lawrence Hamilton and Sullivan), just back from Chile, dine in the Golden Dragon, with one finding the extracted tooth in her soup and the other getting together with her not-so-nice boyfriend. At the same time, a wife betrays her husband, and the bitter man is taken under the evil wing of the convenience store owner.
Along the way, we also are told the old Chinese fable of an industrious ant and frivolous cricket, which turns into a far more harrowing tale. And somehow, all the pieces in this multi-character puzzle end up fitting together.
Sideshow’s earlier work on a Schimmelpfennig play (“Idomeneus,” a mythical Greek saga, played out on a stage of sand) drew formidable attention to the company. With “The Golden Dragon,” this unique troupe, whose mission is “to mine the collective unconscious of the world we live in with limitless curiosity,” has confirmed its place in Chicago’s theater constellation.