All is golden in­deed for ‘Dragon’

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

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPLASH - HEDY WEISS Email: [email protected]­ 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.


Daria Harper (from left), Matt Fletcher, Deanna My­ers, David Hamil­ton and Noah Sul­li­van star in “The Golden Dragon.”

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