Theater archives

The Golden Dragon: Umami Dearest


Did you order a side of magical realism with your moo goo gai pan? Is that a dash of absurdism in your tom yum? In Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon, a brisk, fantastical drama nominally set in a “Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese fast food restaurant,” odd ingredients keep appearing on the menu.

As five cooks prepare a roster of exotic dishes, other narratives and flavors intrude, some occurring in the apartments above the eatery, others in a fairy tale landscape. In the kitchen, a young boy, living in the country illegally, suffers a debilitating toothache. A few floors higher, a young couple faces an unplanned pregnancy and an older one contends with the wife’s affair. Somewhere else, an ant enslaves a hungry grasshopper.

As in Schimmelpfennig’s Arabian Night, previously produced by the Play Company, the playwright finds innovative ways to link characters together–in this case, the cramped confines of the restaurant and a decayed tooth that lands in a flight attendant’s soup. These connections establish a sort of shadow narrative–about migration, trafficking, globalism–that lurks just under the surface. Only toward the end of the drama is it fully exposed, perhaps too blatantly, when a drunken man tells an abused Chinese girl, “You bring thousands of years of history with you.”

Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, an inventive if rather frenetic director, only occasionally lets the script speak for itself. The action whirls and swirls on Mimi Lien’s elegant set–a floating white box–illuminated by constant changes in lighting and enhanced with live sound effects. He often pushes for comedy even in the more serious moments. This makes for a lively production but also an oddly monotonous one in which all scenes have the same antic intensity. But the five cast members work doggedly as they switch fluidly among genders, ages, and races with only small adjustments to their cook’s whites.

The next time you order in Chinese, will you pause and think of its cook and their lives? Likely not. But this queasily entertaining play suggests we should.