- The Pleasure of Being In On It:Foreign Perspectives and "In-Authenticity" in The Golden Dragon at the Tarragon Theatre
In Roland Schimmelpfennig's modern fable Der Goldene Drache (The Golden Dragon, 2009), the Cricket, a character inspired by Aesop's fable of the Ant and the Cricket, doubles as an illegal Chinese immigrant-turned-prostitute/dancer. Throughout the play, we are invited to see the Girl in the Cricket, and vice versa, as if we were watching through two lenses at once. In a similar way, I experienced the Canadian premiere of The Golden Dragon at Tarragon Theatre by Toronto's Volcano Theatre, with Ross Manson's direction and David Tushingham's translation, through two lenses: as a German immigrant, still negotiating her roots and Canadian vantage point, and as a translator, familiar with the pains and joys of cultural transfer in the theatre. When watching great international theatre on our (Canadian) stages, I'd like to argue, we are stimulated by a certain level of "exoticism" in seeing a foreign work that is able to speak to us across cultures and languages. It gives us the exciting inkling that there is a lot more to discover than what we know. At the same time, great international theatre also complicates representations of the foreign and claims to cultural authenticity, as I will argue.
I found myself compelled to look out for the moments in the production where the Canadian performance of the German play betrays its "transnational" nature. For me, those are the instances where cultural specificities of a play's origin create (productive or unproductive) tension on the Canadian stage: a place name that means little to non-German audiences, a food that has interesting socioeconomic connotations in its source culture that are lost on foreign recipients, or an idiom that needs a more loose translation to be understood elsewhere.
Such expectations, however, remained largely unfulfilled in the Toronto interpretation of The Golden Dragon. As it turns out, The Golden Dragon adapts so smoothly to this foreign stage it nearly denied me the kind of "detective" pleasure, the inevitable "double view," if you will, of watching it as a cultural/linguistic import. But even without pointing overtly to this split view of both source and target cultures at once, the production succeeded in raising the kinds of questions that occur because of the transfer—questions about the target country Canada in its global context: How do conditions for illegal immigrants in Germany compare to those in Canada? Are national differences really leveled by an economic system that instead differentiates between the rich and the poor?
The Postdramatic in The Golden Dragon
Part of this foreign play's remarkable fit on the Canadian stage is certainly the result of a number of careful revisions by Schimmelpfennig and Manson that turned some "British-isms" of Tushingham's translation into more familiar terms for Canadians, as the production's assistant director, Leora Morris,
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shared with me (Morris). But I believe the more fundamental reasons for this lie in the original playtext's transnational setting and its commentary on a global, culturally nondistinct society. The Toronto production further amplified both of these features; the production made me think that it could, in fact, have been conceptualized by the playwright especially as the raw material for interpretation through cultural transfer.
In addition to the nondistinct setting, The Golden Dragon features a variety of other markers of "postdramatic" writing1—a style that continues to enjoy enormous popularity with German playwrights and audiences and increasing attention on Toronto's stages as well. Often referred to as raw material (to be shaped by the artists' realization and audience reception), postdramatic theatre invites theatre makers and spectators to become coauthors of the play. As in many postdramatic plays, characters lack names and describe locations and settings...