Chasing the Dragon

The Blue Dragon is a melodrama devoid of drama.  Which is odd, since a plot description would suggest otherwise: Claire (Marie Michaud), a French Canadian whose alcoholism has prevented her from adopting in her native country, flies to China in order to buy a baby.  When that fails, she finds hope in an old friend, Pierre (Robert Lepage), an art handler who may have impregnated his local mistress and client Xiao Ling (Tai Wei Foo); a deliberately ambiguous ending in an airport suggests that any combination of these three could walk away the de facto parents of this child.  It’s enough to make Douglas Sirk drool, and yet the action largely consists of characters standing in the rain, unpacking luggage, or performing rather unimpressive dances.  Every moment is imbued with a heaviness that is never earned—this is essentially a parade of quiet but histrionic scenes without any of the context that would clarify or justify their presence in The Blue Dragon.  “If a picture is worth a thousand words,” says Pierre in his embarrassing, introductory monologue, “it can be said in China that a word is worth a thousand pictures.”  And yet I would have been satisfied if playwrights Ms. Michaud and Mr. Lepage had given us even one of these allegedly cornucopian words or pictures.

It should be mentioned, however, that set designer Michel Gauthier has constructed one of the most breathtaking stages I have seen in quite some time.  The Blue Dragon is filled with seamless transitions, like one from a modest Chinese apartment to a packed airport runway, projected silhouettes giving the impression that dozens of actors are onstage playing extras.  In one extraordinary moment, a series of blank canvasses slowly dissolve into Van Gogh reproductions, like a Polaroid photo being exposed to light, and we realize that Xiao Ling, once a talented artist herself, is now working in one of those knockoff factories.

Still, even the most impressive stage work cannot save something as dull and uninspiring as The Blue Dragon.  The actors, who have all had major creative input (Ms. Foo choreographed the show), trudge through their parts like somnambulists, and any attempt at East meets West insights play like what might be the juvenilia of David Henry Hwang.  This year’s New Wave Festival promises a great deal of challenging works, but The Blue Dragon, one of its first shows, is not one of them.

The Blue Dragon runs through September 21st at the BAM Harvey Theater.  651 Fulton Street  Brooklyn, NY.  1 hour 50 minutes.  No intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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