Playwright: Roland Schimmelpfennig; Translator: David Tushingham. At: Sideshow Theatre Company at Victory Gardens' Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-871-3000; www.sideshowtheatre.org; $20-$25. Runs through: Feb. 23
It's not every day that an African-American male gets to act the role of a blonde female flight attendant with a Scandinavian-sounding name. But then The Golden Dragonnow having its Chicago premiere courtesy of Sideshow Theatre Companyseems to go out of its way to defy dramatic expectations and to emphasize the idea that any actor can take on another's persona via the power of storytelling.
And storytelling is essentially what playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig's The Golden Dragon is all about. Five actors, performing David Tushingham's English translation, take on all the roles of characters in and around a popular pan-Asian restaurant named The Golden Dragon in a major unnamed modern-day German city.
Schimmelpfennig slices, dices and mixes his multiple narratives like a jumbled stir-fry, repeatedly uncovering and concealing plot strands involving undocumented restaurant workers, dissatisfied customers who live nearby and a folk parable of the carefree cricket who seeks help in winter from insidious ants. All these stories eventually become intertwined in a sinister fashion, hinting that fantastical stories told to moralize are often grounded in cold, hard and unflinching truths.
Let's just say that Schimmelpfennig's The Golden Dragon will not be to everyone's taste. The play seems crafted to deliberately alienate audiences with its use of choppy dialogue, spoken third-person stage directions and an ending that finds no justice for two disempowered victims caught up in the cruel cogs of unfettered globalization.
But all these nonrealistic devices also provide a complex and fascinating framework for a theater company to try and visualize it all onstage. I'd say that Sideshow Theatre's production, co-directed by Jonathan L. Green and Marti Lyons, largely succeeds at speedily keeping up with Schimmelpfennig's one-act script that has no patience for narrative stragglers.
Immensely helping out to clarify the scattershot storytelling is the nimble steering of lighting designer John Kelly and sound designer Christopher M. LaPorte, who both give vital clues to who we're with and where. William Boles' busy unit set also aids with a solid and creatively visualized framework to contain the many plot threads within The Golden Dragon.
Cast members Deanna Myers, Matt Fletcher, David Lawrence Hamilton, Daria Harper and Noah Sullivan do not get a lot of time to linger in their many characters. But the cast does palpably get across the pain, hurt and longing that festers inside the various characters.
In unconventionally casting roles the actors normally wouldn't play, The Golden Dragon gives them a chance to find some empathy in another person's shoes. And that could also be what the play itself seems to be pleading with its storytelling, even if there is no recourse for the victims in and around The Golden Dragon.