The Golden Dragon
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
The Theatre at Boston Court
Through June 5
Sometimes a play registers as up front and personal; one’s immediately drawn into the experience of its characters, heartrending or comic or both as the case may be. (That’s how I responded recently to Good People, a play by David Lindsay-Abaire about the struggles of a painfully honest working-class woman in South Boston.)
Other times you’ll view a drama from a palpable distance as events unfold, on an expansive terrain or canvas. It’s the latter experience you’re likely to have at the Theatre at Boston Court in its production of German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon, a collection of fanciful but compelling tales that poses fundamental questions about otherness and identity.
Directed by Michael Michetti, a superlative 5-person ensemble assume multiple roles in a selection of stories that pivot around an Asian restaurant (Thai-Chinese-Vietnamese) and the excruciating toothache of a member of the kitchen staff, a 30 year-old Asian “boy” (Susana Batres) — so identified because he’s the youngest among the workers.
As his colleagues wrestle with the disruptive tooth (a dentist is out of the question), a conversation ensues on a floor above, between a wistful elderly man (Justin H. Min) and his 19-year-old granddaughter (Ann Colby Stocking) — inconveniently pregnant, to the heated dismay of her lover (Joseph Kamal). Elsewhere in the building, a vengeful man (Batres) stews over his wife’s infidelity, while back in the restaurant two female flight attendants (Kamal and Theo Perkins) chat while awaiting their order, unaware how the incident in the kitchen will radically impinge on their meal. One of the most affecting storylines takes the form of a fable and involves a mercenary ant (Stocking) and a beautiful artistic cricket (Min) whom the ant compels into prostitution, in exchange for food. Another relays the destiny of the immigrant kitchen worker, whose bond with his family was once as rooted in his being as the now extracted tooth.
Translated by David Tushingham, Schimmelpfennig’s script weaves dialogue and description into a single graceful tapestry. The roles, by design, are allotted not just across gender but without regard to age. A young person, like Min, plays an elderly man; an older person like Stocking plays a young one. In this ethnically diverse ensemble, Batres, a short young-ish Latina, assumes the roles of brawny white men; Perkins, a tall African- American male, appears as a willowy feminine blonde. The talents of these performers are such that these disparities, if noted at all, are soon forgotten.
The production’s wistful, surreal sadness gains immensely from John Noburi’s exquisite music and sound design. Lighting designer Elizabeth Harper deftly illuminates Sara Ryan Clement’s spare framework of a set — a somewhat bleak and chilly backdrop for a production with lots of heart.
The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., June 1, 8 p.m.; through June 5. (626) 683-6883 or Boston Court.org. Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission.