The Tooth, The Whole Tooth (Quantum Theatre’s “The Golden Dragon” Show Review)
Part of the fun of a Quantum Theatre production is always the venue. From, among others, their production of Maria de Buenos Aires, staged at the East Liberty YMCA, to When the Rain Stops Falling at the Iron City Brewery in Lawrenceville, to Twelfth Night at The West Penn Hospital Foundation Research Facility, under the Millvale Street Bridge, the setting can be seen as a character in the play the same way an author can be seen as a character in a novel. Their current production of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon is no exception. The players do not, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “strut and fret their hour on (a) stage.” One could argue that there isn’t even a stage in the literal sense, as this story unfolds on the concrete walkway bisecting Highland Park’s Lake Carnegie, the soundtrack augmented by passing traffic and several thousand yawinging cicadas.
(Traveler’s Advisory: While Quantum Theatre is considerate enough to hand out insect repellent at the ticket table, I did not take them up on their kind offer, and did not regret my decision later.)
Before the play starts, there is a sense of a very small story being played out within a vast, cavernous, expanse, as the set, so to speak, consists solely of a tiny jumble of kitchen utensils in the center of the walkway, framed by a whole lot of still, stagnant, water, and some intermittent ducks. As she has with her prior productions, Director Karla Boos does an especially effective job of setting a proper tone prior to the players’ entrance.
If “The Golden Dragon” sounds like the name of just another sketchy Chinese restaurant to you, that’s because that’s exactly what it is in The Golden Dragon. The actors file in like POW’s and get right to work slinging moo goo gai pan, extra-spicy.
What’s The Golden Dragon about? Someone once asked Bob Dylan what his songs were about. He replied: “Some of my songs are about three minutes. Some are about four minutes. I got a few that are about eleven minutes.” That said, I won’t be giving anything away by saying that the restaurant setting is more or less a jumping-off point for other stories spinning out of it while the actors don a series of masks; some themes introduced in the restaurant are resolved in the external vignettes, and vice versa.
I have never been disappointed in the past in a Quantum Theatre production from a technical standpoint; this production continues the trend. The sound blends well into the background, never drowning out the players, yet still coordinating nicely with many lighting cues, as the various moods and themes, time frames, and reference points shift, rearrange, and double back upon themselves.
The characters have no names. They are identified only as “Young Man,” “Woman Over Sixty,” etc., but this works within the play’s context, as while there are five performers, there are more than five characters. The actors are assigned parts that assume a variety of guises, often subverting, or ignoring outright, age and gender limitations in often startling and unsettling ways.
There is, therefore, no “lead,” per se, nor are there “supporting parts.” This is an ensemble cast. One thesp who does stand out regardless of this, at least in the eyes of this writer, is Mark Conway Thompson, in the role of “Man Over Sixty.” While all five are usually onstage together, Thompson was the one who kept getting my attention. Well, yes, he does look like he could be a man over sixty, but he also got the biggest laugh of the night when he crossed the aforementioned age and gender lines, playing a stewardess, and stealing the show with a simple roll of his hips.
I wish the play had had more moments such as that. The other members of the cast all speak their lines well, but I didn’t believe in their assorted simulacra to the same degree as I believed in Mark Conway Thompson’s. The other four come across more like ACTORS ACTING than actually seeming to have slipped into another set of skin. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the cast. When one cast member seems more…kinetic…than the others, I prefer not to see it as an uneven distribution of talent, much less a function of one person chewing the scenery. I am more inclined to see it as an uneven distribution of directing. There just wasn’t as much blood, sweat, and tears in the other fours’ performances as was implied in the text. I wasn’t wishing I could see less of Mark Conway Thompson; I was wishing I could see more of the rest of the cast.
This is a minor complaint, actually. Just because I like one member of the dramatis personae more than the rest doesn’t mean you’ll see it the same way. Just know that there’s a lot of pain and suffering going on even when you may have to work a little to perceive it.
All in all, The Golden Dragon is yet another excellent Quantum Theatre production. Whatever bizarre setting they choose for their next production, I know they’ll make the most of it while, yet again, suspending my disbelief.
When can I see The Golden Dragon in Pittsburgh?
Between August 2 – August 26, 2012
Shows are on Wed/Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 8:00pm
How much is it?
Wednesday/Thursday/Sunday – $35
Friday – $40
Saturday – $45
*Student tickets are available for $18 with ID