By Patrick Hurley
A beautiful, seemingly pastiche allegory about immigrant struggles with assimilation and globalization slowly turns into a series of connected stories that plays out like a fractured fable in The Golden Dragon, by German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig, making its southern California premiere at The Theatre @ Boston Court.Centered in the kitchen of a Thai-Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant called The Golden Dragon, we are introduced to five immigrant workers, who seem to be working on an assembly line, rather than cooking. The stage lights are stark with neons overhead, and a grate beneath them on the floor emits smoke to give the place a sweatshop feel. The five cooks are comprised of the five-person ensemble who fluidly jump in and out of all of the roles in the play without any regard to race, gender, or age.
In the kitchen of The Golden Dragon, a young man (Susana Batres) is dealing with an excruciating toothache. And as he screams in pain, his co-workers try to help him without stopping the flow of the kitchen. And because of his immigrant status, a doctor is not an option. Finally, because the young man is not able to stand the pain any longer, another cook (Joseph Kamal) offers to get pliers and yank the tooth.
The tooth serves as a catalyst that ties together a group of people who surround this Thai-Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant. There’s a flight attendant (Theo Perkins) whose dining experience at The Golden Dragon proves to be a life changing event. An older German convenient store owner (Ann Colby Stocking) who lives above the restaurant and is making extra money in a very troubling way. A beautiful allegory about an Ant (Ann Colby Stocking) and a dancing Cricket (Justin H. Min). And of course the young boy with the toothache, who’s story becomes a microcosmic symbol of the immigrant experience. Indeed, all of these stories touch upon the immigrant experience. There is a deep, painful process to assimilation and because globalization is moving at lightning speed, too many people are falling between the cracks.
Director Michael Michetti handles the difficulties of this piece with a kind of beautiful chaotic control. So many things are happening, and so many of them in a fractured way, that it could have so easily devolved into a muddled mess. But instead, Mr. Michetti quickly finds the rhythm of the poetic script, and it all flows easily in and out of the different stories. The set, designed by Sara Ryung Clement, is appropriately Brechtian. The steel scaffolding and rolling chairs give the play a hyper-theatricalized feel. We are never meant to suspend our disbelief beyond the world of the theater. This is not naturalism. This is meant to be in a theater, and the script, translated by David Tushingham also reminds of this by having the characters narrate their stories as if they were reading them to us. Characters will refer to themselves in the third person, and will read stage directions such as “short pause,” to indicate that the character they are now playing takes a pause in his/her line, right in the middle of the line. There are also no costume changes, and all five actors remain on stage regardless of the scene that is playing.
The cast is exceptional. With every actor taking on several roles, and every one of them completely distinct. We are able to track the journey of each different character even though the actors never leave the stage, never change their costumes, and sometimes barely move from where they were in a previous scene.
With something important to say about the world, about the people who disappear into the dark void of globalization, this play is a heightened theatrical world populated by heightened theatrical characters. It’s a poetic, epic, politically charged, and often funny examination of a changing world through the eyes of a changing people. And it’s quite a sight to see!
The Golden Dragon
By Roland Schimmelpfennig
Translated by David Tushingham
Directed by Michael Michetti
May 8- June 5, 2016
The Theatre @ Boston Court
70 N Mentor Ave, Pasadena, CA 91106
For tickets: www.bostoncourt.com