Talking about human trafficking is difficult to do, let alone dramatize, without getting into the terrain of heavy-handed. When you add illustrating how the antithesis of empathy paves the way for exploiting illegal workers you’d be right to think that you are in for a scold.
Yet Sideshow Theatre Company’s “The Golden Dragon” delves into this territory in depth without a moment of proselytizing or growl. Rather, the creative script by playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig—a journey that takes just over an hour—paints a detailed picture of exploitation that holds you rapt without exciting recoil reflexes. Clearly the direction by Jonathan L. Green and Marti Lyons that moves this script at a clip is also at work to keep you riveted to the tale well told.
Using the famed ant and grasshopper parable and at times a poetic leap, this script relies on expert actors to switch voice and character quickly to bring you personas from the multitudes. There are only five of them to do this—Matt Fletcher, David Lawrence Hamilton, Daria Harper, Deanna Myers and Noah Sullivan—and they do it without flaw. This is a multi-racial cast and each actor is memorably called upon to juggle age, gender, race and the grammatical person in which they are speaking from one line to the next.
The play is named for a pan-Asian restaurant where orders fly in and woks are stirred at a rapid pace to keep up. There is barely space or time for the human drama unfolding within the kitchen. When tragedy becomes centerstage in the kitchen the patrons’ orders still keep tumbling in.
In the surrounding building, many faces of cruelty are on display and kindness is in short supply.
One character is a young stewardess who gets a sign of another human life and unlike those around her comes to ponder it. She is perhaps the stand in for all of us who likewise are watching tragedy unfold and yet do nothing.
Be forewarned-- the fast switch of dialogue was apparently beyond some in the audience who in post-show chitchat conveyed that they weren’t sure what they had just seen.
Don’t let that deter you.
This is a novel way to tell a story and for that reason alone it is worth the time. That you will see the kitchen worker in your take-out joint with new eyes makes the case for this play all the more.
The Golden Dragon is playing at Victory Gardens Theater through February 23.
For more information visit the Sideshow Theater website.
For tickets visit the Victory Gardens website, call their box office at 773 871 3000 or visit the theater in person at 2433 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago.
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Photos by Jonathan L. Green