Five actors dressed in white, stirring their spoons in bowls made of stainless steel—from time to time this piece reminded me of the crazy cooks of Nanta, the notorious “non-verbal” performance I saw when I first visited Korea back in 2006. But while Nanta promotes easy-accessible tradition by mixing samulnori-drumming with fusion-style gastronomy, The Golden Dragon (Der Goldene Drache, world premiere at Burgtheater Wien, 2009) deals with the darker sides of multicultural society. The setting is German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig‘s award-winning piece is the eponimous Asian restaurant—Chinese-Vietnamese-Thai, whatever works. The five actors play not only the (illegal) migrant workers who cook the soup, but also the various customers and neighbors, more than a dozen characters who vary in age, gender, and background. In fifty-something short episodes, most not longer than one or two minutes, fragmented stories about the smaller and bigger problems of life unfold. In the end, a young woman dies because of an ill tooth that could not be treated. Her body is thrown in the sea, sent on a long voyage “back home”. The tooth finds its way into the sour-spicy soup. The tale of the diligent ant and the jumpy grasshopper, that is interspersed as a metaphoric foil, likewise ends sad: The grasshopper (who sings well but did not prepare for winter) is enslaved by the ant. More than the plot, however, it is the actors who make time fly by, switching with virtuosity between the different roles. The tragic sides of work migration—the explicit theme of The Golden Dragon—seems rather like an excuse for tour-de-force performances between “flight attendant”, “old man from next door”, and “drunk neighbor”. Schimmelpfennig’s play relies on a strong cast to perform his tricks (including irritating gimmicks such as stage directions spoken by the actors). In Seoul, where The Golden Dragon premiered this March at the Daehangno Arts Theater (대학로 예술극장) (and problems of “yellowfacing” where apparently no concern), the actors were fabulous. (Disclaimer: the translation of the piece by Brecht-veteran Won-Yang Rhie was supported by Goethe-Institut) On a second thought, this piece seems to call for a pansori singer—or five of them? PS: A week later, at a conference on German language and literature, I listened to a conference paper on Schimmelpfennig and his plays. The paper was based on the German-language premiere in Vienna and a subsequent performance in Berlin, though. (Images via PlayDB)
These are some more links on The Golden Dragon in its various international incarnations:
- An interview with Schimmelpfennig at the Goethe-Institut homepage
- Another Goethe-interview, this time with Korean director Yoon Gwang-Jin and actor Lee Dong-Geun (in Korean or German, the latter my translation)
- The Guardian on an English-language performance at the Edinburgh Festival 2011 by the ATC and Drum Theatre (see their production blog) and a video of a post-performance discussion)
- A video from a 2010 production of the National Theatre of Greece
- Two blog posts on various performances, one by coastalspectator and the other by doe-eyedcritic
- The piece just premiered in New York City and a 15-minute audiowalk (available at Soundcloud) was made for the way to The New Ohio Theatre in Christopher Street
— 12 April 2013 (金)
- “황금용”, 극본: 롤란트 시멜페니히, 번역: 이원양, 연출: 윤광진, 제작: 공연제작센터, 출연: 이호성, 남미청, 이동근, 한덕호, 방현숙, 2013년 4월 12일 (금), 오후 8시 ~ 9시30분, 대학로예술극장 대극장, 1층 B구역 5열 54번.
- “The Golden Dragon”, written by Roland Schimmelpfennig, translated by Won-Yang Rhie, directed by Yoon Gwang-Jin, with Lee Ho-seong, Nam Mi-cheong, Lee Dong-geun, Han Deok-ho, Bang Hyeon-suk, 2013-04-12 (Fri.), 8 – 9.30 pm, Daehangno Arts Theater, Large Theatre, 1st floor, area B, row 5, place no. 54.