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Theater Sun Jan 26 2014
The Golden Dragon by German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig is a fanciful story presented by Sideshow Theatre Company. It's a sort of dark fairy tale about the workers, residents and guests at a Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese fast food restaurant in a warehouse building in a certain global city. We are not sure where, but it doesn't matter.
The play is made up of the intertwined stories of 15 or 20 characters, played by five actors who quickly move from role to role without regard to gender, nationality or costume. Scenes are quick cuts from one event to another as if cinematically edited.
The characters include the cooks and servers in the restaurant, a young couple who live in an apartment above, the young woman's grandfather, a man in a striped shirt, a woman in a red dress whose marriage is fraying, the owner of the adjacent convenience store, and two flight attendants who frequent the restaurant and live upstairs. Not to be forgotten is a young boy with a terrible toothache, whose tooth is pulled by one of the cooks with a red wrench. Strange things happen to the boy and to the tooth, involving more than a touch of magical realism.
Another story thread is the fable of the ant and the cricket (you may know it as Aesop's "The Grasshopper and the Ant"). The practical ant refuses to help the playful, hungry cricket and the cricket turns to illicit means to support herself. Her story recurs throughout the other characters' lives, with disturbing twists and turns.
The actors who lead us through their tangled stories are Matt Fletcher, David Lawrence Hamilton, Darla Harper, Deanna Myers and Noah Sullivan.
Directors Jonathan L. Green and Marti Lyons do an excellent job as guides through the aberrations of this 65-minute play. The simple scenic design by William Boles is enhanced by John Kelly's lighting. Christopher M. LaPorte's original music is a key feature.
Schimmelpfennig is one of today's most-produced European playwrights, whose works have been translated into 20 languages. He has said "the most basic element of theater is changing and being someone else." This play fulfills that element completely.
His script is stylized, rather than naturalistic. The actors often narrate what they're going to do before they do it. "The flight attendants eat in silence. They have spent 18 hours together and have nothing more to say." They speak stage directions as well, adding "pause" or "short pause." The actors announce the orders placed in the kitchen with all their ingredients. "Number 6: Thai soup with chicken, coconut milk, Thai ginger, tomatoes, button mushrooms, lemon grass and lemon leaves (hot)."
The Golden Dragon may seem confusing if you try to view it as a traditional story. Just enjoy the flow of scenes about today's multicultural cities, clashing traditions and survival. "If I had just one wish..." is a thought repeated by several characters throughout the play.
The Golden Dragon runs through February 23 at Victory Gardens' Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $20-$25 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-871-3000. More information can be found here.