A Few Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen
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A Few Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

Toronto gets another serving of playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig in Tarragon Theatre's The Golden Dragon, a story of miscommunication between generations and cultures that's more sour than sweet.

David Fox inspects the incisor of Anusree Roy, while David Yee, Tony Nappo, and Lili Francks look on. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

The Golden Dragon
Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Avenue)
January 18 to February 19
Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m., weekend matinee at 2:30 p.m.
$23 to $43

The Golden Dragon is a mouthful, and we’re not only talking about its playwright, Germany’s Roland Schimmelpfennig. Centred around a Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese fast-food restaurant in an unnamed city (it feels like it could be many), the play weaves together the stories of those who live and work around and within the cramped eatery over the course of one fateful evening. It’s an ambitious, dense, and complex script that follows the course of a poorly planned meal—one that begins lightly enough, becomes tough and meatier in the middle, is sprinkled with sweeter laughs here and there, and ends with a bitter bite that, while satisfying, is tough to swallow.

To fully explain Schimmelpfennig’s characters and circumstances would take up this entire article, not to mention spoil the carefully constructed layers that he reveals slowly throughout the play. But basically, five Asian cooks at work inside the kitchen of The Golden Dragon take orders, as “The Boy”—the newest employee who illegally landed in search for his sister—suffers from an intense toothache, which has unfortunate consequences for two female flight attendants eating in the dining room. Upstairs lives a young couple, the grandfather of the girl, a married couple on the rocks, and the owner of the convenience store beside the restaurant. The cast of five (David Fox, Lili Francks, Tony Nappo, Anusree Roy, and David Yee), and director Ross Manson disregard gender, age, and ethnicity as they switch from character to character, scene to scene, on a plain, white riser located in the middle of the Tarragon space.

As Germany’s most popular playwright at the moment, Schimmelpfennig is an expert at dissecting the often misunderstood perceptions of East vs. West cultures. In Canadian Stage’s Peggy Pickitt Sees the Face of God, also directed by Manson, the subject was aid in Africa. In The Golden Dragon, the gaze shifts towards immigrant workers from Asia living in a Westernized world. Through a layered storyline, transitions between reality and myth, and grotesque scenes that draw more than a few grimaces from the audience (and not only because of the rotten tooth), the script tackles heavy themes while playfully addressing the concept of working and eating in a restaurant as a performance in itself—one that the actors on stage probably know all too well from the days of their early careers.

However, the show gets lost when it comes to creating characters that are relatable and sympathetic. Spoken stage directions, though they get a chuckle or two, forever keep the audience in their role as observers, the actors in theirs as performers. Inconsistent use of accents enhances this sense of alienation. And while some characters, like the flight attendants, are enjoyably developed more and more with every scene, others like the young couple are left disappointingly shallow. As the audience witnesses the heartbreaking events that befall those somehow related to The Golden Dragon restaurant, our gag reflexes are harder at work than our hearts. We’re more concerned with the tooth, than with the person it once belonged to.