Play cures sweet tooth

The Golden Dragon
Theatre Inconnu until May 18, 2013
Written by Roland Schimmelpfennig
Translated by David Tushingham
Directed by Clayton Jevne

Reviewed by Leah Callen

When I sat down in the theatre, I had a bag of sugar-coated Fuzzy Peaches in my purse–candy that I sucked on as I walked to Fernwood. Little did I know the challenge my vice was about to undergo. The Golden Dragon is an avant-garde fable featuring industrious, ant-like workers in an Asian restaurant where everything is always served hot–whether it’s the Thai soup or the sex slave. Shiny woks and dark holes dot the abstract set as the cooks stir up trouble inside and around the Golden Dragon, a place where humanity hungers but is never satisfied. At times, the actors bang the woks with percussive force that is both dynamic and jarring: beware if you have hearing aids!

The story starts with a young Asian man howling with a fierce toothache. His whole mouth is black, perhaps because of his lifelong craving for candy or for home. His fellow chefs decide to yank out the tooth no matter what the consequence; we are quickly shown how all the little choices we make in life add up like ingredients in a recipe. A series of exploitative relationships play out as people will accept almost anything to relieve their emptiness. There are three kinds of patrons at this metaphorical restaurant: those who dish out pain to subdue their own, those who walk away from it, and those who swallow it.

An inventive retelling of Aesop’s fable of the hardworking ant and the carefree cricket takes such a dark turn that your mind will spin. It could even go so far as to represent capitalism’s exploitation of art. The Golden Dragon’s menu comes with a warning: beware of people who will chew you up like a cherry and spit you out like a stone. It’s all point of view: one man’s rotten tooth is another’s lucky dragon; someone’s pain tastes delicious to another.

With some clever, unexpected casting, actors express nontraditional gender. Michael Romano’s fragility as a stewardess and The Woman in the Red Dress was truly touching (he has a lovely voice). Mily Mumford straddled both innocence and arrogance as the Young Asian Man and the Barbie-Fucker. Blair Moro was the epitome of pathos as the pitiful cricket, his chopstick feeler ripped out by the unfeeling. Bingdon Kinghorn and Catriona Black spiced up the story with enjoyable Yang energy. It was curious how characters punctuate their dramatic speeches by announcing each short pause. It’s both comedic and heartbreaking, as characters hesitate to construct their truth. Is all life a script where we speak the lines we think we should or are we always genuine?

At first fragmented and unrelated, the scenes link eventually in heart-stopping ways. The real and surreal mix as the playwright heats everyone up in his paper wok. I just wish there was more of a hook at the beginning. The deceivingly prosaic set-up tries the patience somewhat. At first the fable came across as cute when it was anything but; the production builds up to beautiful choreography that is physical poetry.

Theatre Inconnu productions always stir up the audience emotionally and psychologically. The Golden Dragon challenges us to ask ourselves: are you a caged, self-destructive cricket or an angry, sadistic ant? It’s a warning to not fall into either of those holes. And after watching what happens to those who indulge their cravings, I think this play cured me of my candy addiction. For now.

Leah Callen is a poet-playwright-screenwriter graduating with a BFA any second now at the University of Victoria.