Sunday, January 22, 2012


'How do you tell stories about illegal immigrants' lack of rights: about people who cannot go to the dentist when they suffer from agonising toothache, people who cannot go to the police when they are forced into prostitution or abused by a pimp, people who get loved to death? How do you write about the parallel world of migrants who, condemned to the catacombs of prosperity, provide for the needs of our lower bodies, as kitchen coolies or sex slaves? And how do you depict all this without adding too much social kitsch to the theatrical pot (a pot full of fragrant Asian soup at the Chinese takeaway where Roland Schimmelpfennig's The Golden Dragon is set)? Schimmelpfennig avoids the risks inherent in a theatre of outrage by cooling down his dramaturgy in epic style, adding fairytale ingredients and chopping up the scenes like the little morsels on a sushi tray.'

(Christopher Schmidt, 2010 Berlin Theatertreffen programme)

Tarragon theatre’s Canadian premiere of award winning German Playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon does all of the things required of a complex and compelling script with a simple and direct elegance and power. Ross Manson’s direction, staged beautifully on and around the subtle yet looming dais of Teresa Przybylski’s set, brings intersecting stories to life in a subtle and powerful manner that mixes light comic play with intense tragic story lines that lead the audience toward a final poetic moment of harrowing recognition. As ants, grasshoppers, crickets, flight attendants, restaurant cooks and store owners mingle within the grim confines of class structures that create hostile hierarchies around race and gender, the stories unfold with layers of beautiful prose and dialogue that creates a vicious circle of inter-cultural disarray.

Manson’s cast is able to insert subtle nuances into gender blind casting that renders their portrayals both poignant and believable. David Fox and Tony Nappo deliver an array of diverse solid characters that never lapse into parody. As female flight attendants replete with slapdash wigs that complement and contrast their nuanced and subtle portrayals, they could be anyone, anywhere, within the confines of unwelcoming cultural contexts. The ensemble is able to provide a strong sense of working as a single, almost choral-like unit, as well as an array of distinct and powerful characters. Anusree Roy, Lili Francks and David Yee round out the cast with diverse performances ranging form the haunting insects that Francks and Yee bring to life, to the bewildered, boorish, and at times frighteningly endearing character of Roy’s man in the striped shirt. One scene between Roy and Nappo, with Nappo in a simple red wraparound frock and Roy in the signature shirt, presents an impeccable piece of gender blind casting that each performer manages to perfect with distinct characterization and subtle physical gestures.

The play’s central symbol of the decaying tooth begs the question regarding the rights of illegal immigrants when they are in need of specific healthcare, and illuminates Canada’s own conflicted state of sufficient medical support for those in need. The Golden Dragon’s episodic, intersecting dramaturgy, demanding a non-traditional approach to casting, resists realism in a way that puzzles, delights, and demonstrates inhumanity. The Tarragon production, although impressive and beautifully staged, lacks some of the grittiness the script demands, as it casts an intense and sharply poetic light upon the state of urban structures that dehumanize daily within the steamy, underbelly of what many of us take for granted as relatively inexpensive places to dine.

running until February 19th, 30 Bridgman Avenue, Tarragon Theatre

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