In a season of outstanding, innovative drama, Boston Court’s production of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon (translated by David Tushingham) stands out with boldness of concept and excellence of production. The playwright creates a universal piece that calls for actors to slip seamlessly across lines of race, gender, age and ethnicity. Women play men, men play women, but not always. Older actors play younger people, younger play older. All are Asian cooks in a Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese fast food restaurant called The Golden Dragon. Where is this restaurant? Could be anywhere in a major city with a river running through it, but given that the playwright is German, I thought of it as Berlin or Munich. All speak in an Asian dialect when they are cooks (kudos to dialect coach Ryun Yu). Other characters might speak in an East Coast dialect, maybe New York or New Jersey. This concept gives the play a certain transcendent universality.
In terms of storytelling, the action takes place entirely in one evening, save for a modern, chilling rendition of the fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper” (here called the Cricket). In the kitchen of the restaurant, a young Asian man (Susana Batres) suffers from a horrible toothache as the relentless work of the short order cooks goes on. The others are sympathetic, but don’t know what to do. An older man (Joseph Kamal) sees that the tooth must come out. The others (Justin H. Min, Theo Perkins and Ann Colby Stocking) are flustered but keep cooking.
This is but one story thread among several others. All the action takes place in the same building. An old man (Mr. Min) longs for youth. His granddaughter lives in a top floor garret and is in conflict with her boy friend. Flight attendants (Mssrs. Perkins and Kamal) just off a long flight from South America stop at the restaurant for a bite served by Mr. Min whose gender is ambiguous.
And there are other intersecting story lines as well, including the fable. The Ant (Ms. Stocking) labors all summer to pile up supplies for the winter as the beautiful Cricket (Mr. Min) dances in the warmth of the season with enchanting, graceful movements (choreography by Annie Yee). The fable turns brutal when winter comes and the Ant, scornful of the frivolous dancer, takes advantage of the Cricket’s hunger and her turns her into a sex slave. It was at this point that I was reminded of the work of German artist George Grosz, who created caricature drawings and paintings of the often-unattractive life of Berlin in the 1920s.
The play is Brechtian in that the actors not only play the characters, but often describe them and their actions directly to the audience, even going so far as to highlight pauses in the dialogue by uttering, “pause,” or “short pause” before continuing. It is a reminder not to get too emotionally involved with characters. The device is repeated often enough to become annoying before it is dropped altogether. Ultimately, the story lines are so compelling that an emotional response is inevitable.
The action is fast paced under the sure-handed direction of Michael Michetti, aided enormously by the scenic design of Sara Ryung Clement, a unit set consisting of pipe scaffolding on multiple levels. Elizabeth Harper’s lighting design makes sure that the eye can follow the action as it moves from area to area. The basic costumes by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz are appropriate to the kitchen and are retained throughout the performance. And the sound design and composition by John Nobori completes a thoroughly well produced show.
Unique in concept and execution, The Golden Dragon runs through June 5 at The Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Avenue in Pasadena.