Five exceptional performances, Michael Michetti’s highly imaginative direction, and a breathtaking Theatre @ Boston Court production design add up to reason enough to check out Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon despite a script more pretentious than profound.

TGD_0036 copy Schimmelpfennig’s plot lines, translated from the German-language Der Goldene Drache by David Tushingham, could just as easily make for a straightforward indie movie or TV pilot, multiple lives unfolding around the immigrant-Asian kitchen staff busy at work in the Thai-Chinese-Vietnamese fast food restaurant that gives the play its title.

TGD_0464 copy A couple of 30ish stewardesses, just in from a long overseas flight, dine on Chinese noodle stir-fry and Thai soup. A young woman visits her aging grandfather in an upstairs apartment before delivering news hardly likely to please her not so committed boyfriend. An angry young man, having just gotten himself dumped by the girl he’s been living with, gets drunker and drunker as the evening progresses.

The Golden Dragon is no straightforward indie movie or TV pilot, however.

TGD_0271 copy To begin with, the entire cast cross age and gender lines in the several roles they’ve each been assigned. 20something Justin H. Min is both an elderly grandfather and a pert young waitress. Ann Colby Stocking plays half her age as Min’s granddaughter and gender-bends as store owner Hans. Joseph Kamal and Theo Perkins go from burly to girly as the two young flight attendants. And Susana Batres plays it rough, tough, and terrifying as a pair of violently abusive males.

Not only that, but in a cast already about as racially diverse as casts come (and bravo for that!), you don’t have to be Asian to play Asian, or white to play white, or insect to play insect.

TGD_0880 copy That’s right. A couple of the characters aren’t even human (or are they?), and Aesop probably never imagined that his Grasshopper (or Cricket) would find itself forced into the sex trade by a hard-working but even harder-hearted Ant.

Not surprisingly, a couldn’t-be-better Boston Court cast proves more than up to the acting challenges at hand, resulting in some of the most dazzling work you’ll see this year.

On a less positive note, all this gender-race-age-species-bending makes it harder to care about Schimmelpfennig’s characters and tougher to stay interested and involved in their lives. (The recent Colony Collapse had twice The Golden Dragon’s running time, but with characters we could identify with, it seems the shorter of the two in retrospect.)

Restaurant scenes involving all five actors crackle with electricity as Batres’s Asian Man With Toothache finds himself in increasing dental agony, the actress also making a powerful impression as the drunken, abusive Man With A Striped Shirt. Stocking is as sweet-and-innocent as The Granddaughter as she is vile-and-vicious as The Ant. Perkins and Kamal are at their most memorable at their most feminine, as Flight Attendants One and Two.

TGD_0775 copy Most impressive of all is rising-star Min, delicacy personified as The Cricket (executing Annie Yee’s graceful choreography to perfection), sassy as all get-out as The Waitress, and wise and wizened with age as The Grandfather.

Still, if you can figure out what playwright Schimmelpfennig had in mind with his sadistic take on Aesop or menu items and ingredients recited ad infinitum or stage directions spoken aloud or a rotted tooth seemingly with a life of its own, please let me know.

TGD_0414 copy Design elements are all quite spectacular, from scenic designer Sara Ryung Clement’s ingenious use of scaffolding and bamboo to Elizabeth Harper’s thrillingly dramatic lighting to costume designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s snazzy white-red-and-black restaurant wear to John Nobori’s appropriately unnerving, virtually non-stop sound design and original music.

John Miyasaki is assistant director and Ryun Yu dialect coach for the cast’s assorted Asian-and-other accents. Jaime Barcelon, Joshua Wolf Coleman, Scott Haven, Jully Lee, and Jane Macfie are understudies.

Roxana Khan is production stage manager. Matthew Quinlan is dramaturg. Casting is by Nicole Arbusto.

The Golden Dragon may not be the all-around success of The Theatre @ Boston Court’s recent Colony Collapse and Seven Spots On The Sun, but one thing is certain. You won’t see five more exciting performances around town than the ones now onstage @ Boston Court.

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The Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
May 8, 2016
Photos: Ed Krieger

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