Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
The Golden Dragon
Also see Bill's review of Amadeus
It starts immediately. The show opens on five cooks in the cramped kitchen of The Golden Dragon, a "Chinese-Thai-Vietnamese" restaurant. The cooks are all Asian, but the five performers playing them are of different ethnicities. If you've been paying attention to the Internet, you're aware of the ongoing discussion regarding the under-representation of Asian-American actors in Hollywood. And right here, on stage in front of you, are some Asian characters being played by non-Asian actors. It's jarring. And as you watch this multi-ethnic cast use the heavily accented, broken English of recent immigrants, you might find yourself wondering whether or not to be offended: are these people mocking Asians or are they simply making their best efforts at representing the characteristics of people who are different from them?
As the play continues, the five actors go on to play many different partsrestaurant customers, people who live in the apartments above the restaurant, the shopkeeper next door, and the characters in the fable of the grasshopper (here, cricket) and the ant. The characters are all of different races, genders and agesand if the race, gender, age, and species of the character being played happens to match that of the actor portraying him, her, or it, it's more a matter of random chance than anything intentional. The reasons for this disconnect (which most definitely is intentional) are multiple, but one of them is that this is a play about stepping into someone else's shoes.
One of the cooks in the kitchen of The Golden Dragon has a bad tooth; the tooth eventually gets removed and, in a moment in which the play veers into farce, the tooth finds its way into a bowl of soup being shared by two flight attendants. The play posits that there are two kinds of people in this world: the first, upon finding a human tooth in their soup, is completely grossed out and leaves the restaurant; the second will try to imagine who the tooth came from and how they must have suffered with that bad tooth. And while I'll freely admit to being one of the first type, the second makes for infinitely better theatre as we watch the flight attendant use the discovered tooth as a basis for trying to connect with another person's life.
The cast has mixed results convincingly pulling off the characteristics of people they are not, with a few performances ranging dangerously close to offensive stereotype. Perhaps the best is Justin H. Min's portrayal of the cricket. (And I ask myself, is Min simply amazing or is part of his success the fact that I just don't have any preconceived notions of how a cricket should act?) Min portrays the elegant creature who frolics away her days with a delicate grace. When she begs the hardworking ant for some food, we wonder whether the ant will see that the cricket's dancing can provide beauty beyond value, and that art that precious should truly be compensated. But the ant, solidly played by Ann Colby Stocking, refuses, and we are no longer watching an ant talk to a cricket; we're watching a woman with means berate a man without. It's reminiscent of a recent viral video of a female shopper who ripped into a single father for using food stamps. (Are we more sympathetic when it's a cricket? When it's a female? Should we be?)
Theo Perkins is also quite good as the female flight attendant who is moved by her discovery of the tooth. The characters in the show often narrate for themselves, and Perkins conveys more in the way he delivers his narration than the meaning of the actual words he says.
Roland Schimmelpfennig's play occasionally gets mystical, which is fine in most cases, but at one point, laughably impossible. It's disappointing, because the scene throws you out of the play. But it doesn't destroy the entire experience, because The Golden Dragon isn't trying to be an engrossing story. It is, instead, a series of loosely related vignettes, intended to make you think about issues of poverty, immigration, otherness, and the interconnectedness of the human experience. By that measure, it is a success.
The Golden Dragon runs at The Theatre @ Boston Court through June 5, 2016. For tickets and information, see www.BostonCourt.com.
The Theatre @ Boston Court presents The Golden Dragon by Roland Schimmelpfennig; translated by David Tushingham. Directed by Michael Michetti. Scenic Design Sara Ryung Clement; Costume Design Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; Lighting Design Elizabeth Harper; Sound Design & Composition John Nobori; Assistant Director John Miyasaki; Dramaturg Matthew Quinlan; Dialect Coach Ryun Yu; Choreography Annie Yee; Production Stage Manager Roxana Khan; Casting Director Nicole Arbusto; Key Art Design Mila Sterling.