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Wrestling with Otherness on Stage

Director Ross Manson speaks about his work on The Golden Dragon

by Michelle Medford
Publicity photo of cast of The Golden Dragon

The Golden Dragon is a fresh and engaging play taking the stage at the Tarragon Theatre this week. Local director Ross Manson brings his directing to the internationally acclaimed play written by revered German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig, and doesn’t shy away from a bold approach.

The play takes place at the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant, where guests dine while kitchen staff is busy keeping an illegal immigrant hidden. The script weaves between monologue directed at the audience and conversation between characters. However, what makes the play most intriguing is the five characters, all of whom are defined by age and gender, but played by actors who are exactly the opposite. So, the character of an older woman might be played by a young man, and vice versa. Manson adds another layer to the original by bringing race into the equation. This change-up illuminates a key theme to the play: otherness. By highlighting our differences, The Golden Dragon creates a discussion about them.

While the play has already been produced in other countries, this marks its Canadian premiere. “I feel this play is more suited to Canada than any other country,” says Manson. “There’s so much immigration here; there is so much otherness.” However, he knew that executing the reversal of salient characteristics wouldn’t be an easy task, describing that one of the challenges he faced was “getting the audience to recognize that this man with a beard is a young woman.”

Manson also took a different approach to finding the right actors for the challenging roles. Instead of searching solely for “good actors,” he wanted actors he felt could bring a greater sense of depth to their parts, so he searched for actors who were genuinely engaged with the issues presented. “They all have a really personal investment in this play,” he says.

As if those weren’t enough, Manson had yet another switch-up in mind. He’s also completely transformed the layout of the Tarragon for this play, moving the stage to the centre of the room with the audience surrounding it. “We break down separation between the stage and audience,” he says, hoping to create a more meaningful connection with the audience.

For a play that centres on otherness, it seems like an experience that aims to unite us instead.

Previews of The Golden Dragon end January 17. It opens January 18 and runs until February 19.

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