Review: ‘Golden Dragon’ presented by Do It Live Productions at The A.C.T. Costume Shop (****)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: *****)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“The Golden Dragon” plays at The A.C.T. Costume Shop from September 15 through September 28, 2013.)

Richard Schimmelpfennig is currently one of Europe’s leading playwrights, and a winner of Germany’s prestigious  Else Lasker-Schuler Prize. Schimmelpfennig is not well known in America, but that is changing.

It is not surprising that Do It Live Productions, an emerging young company devoted to new work, would take on one of his plays. Nor is it surprising that they have done a bang up job of it. Do It Live is a company to watch!

“The Golden Dragon” is a beautifully written play (described by the producers as “a deliciously disturbing global tragi-comedy”) that is difficult to categorize stylistically. At some moments it is straightforward and realistic, at others it utilizes rhythmic poetic repetition of words. In still other moments it adopts a “story theatre” style of presentation with actors punctuating their lines with narrative comments such as “he said” and “she said”. Such a complex combination of styles is difficult to master, and director Jonathan J. Carpenter has done well in keeping it all clear.

Celeste Conowitch as The Young Woman. Do It Live's production of Ronald Schimmelpfennig's "The Golden Dragon" is full of disturbing and haunting images. Photo Credit: Casey Robbins.
Celeste Conowitch as The Young Woman. Do It Live’s production of Ronald Schimmelpfennig’s “The Golden Dragon” is full of disturbing and haunting images. Photo Credit: Casey Robbins.

The titular Golden Dragon is a Chinese-Vietnamese-Thai restaurant run by five immigrants of of various nationalities. Within its walls, a variety of life stories unfold, full of pathos, comedy and tragedy. It is life under a microscope, an approach subtly emphasized by Yusuke Soi’s remarkable set in which we view the five kitchen workers through a window which makes it appear that they are performing within a puppet stage. (Indeed, at one point, the playwright actually has the actors utilize shadow puppets to tell a parallel story that comments upon the main action.) As the play unfolds, the actors move out of the kitchen into the restaurant area and take on the characters of various customers. In comical repetition, every meal is detailed by number and menu description. These various meals take on metaphorical meaning, representing various life stories, what each of us is served as we make our way through our personal histories.  Multiple stories are told. At the center of the complex narrative is the story of a young Chinese immigrant kitchen worker who suffers from a toothache. The droning pain of the toothache, and the young man’s histrionics, thread through the play like a memento mori. It is all quite extraordinary.

The five actors who bring this recipe to life are uniformly outstanding, constantly surprising us with unexpected turns and variations in their performances. The restaurant itself also becomes a character, particularly in the wonderful soundscape created by Hannah Birch Carl, full of screaming, bells, music, the clash of pots and pans and the droning of electrical equipment acting as an effective score for the action.

By the final sequences of the play, reality has been abandoned, imagery soars and the complexity of themes astonishes: hunger, prostitution, poverty, sorrow, love, happiness, sadness are all addressed.

The aching tooth (which ultimately finds its way into every story) becomes a symbol of truth which seems to be telling us that our pasts are wounds through which we bleed to death and that is the meaning of life. Our playwright is engaging the great themes, evoking the spirit of both Becket and Brecht. And, I should mention, it is all very, very funny.

This is remarkable theatre, remarkably realized by Do It Live. You should see it. And anything else this exciting young company decides to take on.

For further information click here.


“The Golden Dragon” by Roland Schimmelpfennig, translated by David Tushingham, produced by Do It Liv Productions. Director: Jonathan J. Carpenter. Scenic Design: Yusuke Soi. Lighting Design: Krista Smith. Sound Design: Hannah Birch Carl. Costume Design: Michelle Mal.

Young Man: Andrew Akraboff. Young Woman: Celeste Conowitch. Man: Nick Medina. Man Over Sixty: Phil Wharton. Woman Over Sixty: Susannah Wood.


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