Chicago Sun-Times

All is golden indeed for ‘Dragon’

5 people morph into many more in Sideshow’s rousing new play

- HEDY WEISS Email: Twitter: @HedyWeissC­ritic

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.

 ?? | PHOTO BY JONATHAN L. GREEN ?? Daria Harper (from left), Matt Fletcher, Deanna Myers, David Hamilton and Noah Sullivan star in “The Golden Dragon.”
| PHOTO BY JONATHAN L. GREEN Daria Harper (from left), Matt Fletcher, Deanna Myers, David Hamilton and Noah Sullivan star in “The Golden Dragon.”
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