The Blue Dragon
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The Blue Dragon: In brief
Quebecois director-writer and sometime actor Robert Lepage, a polymath auteur perpetually drawn to epic scale, returns to BAM's Next Wave Festival to star in a sequel to his career-establishing 1985 work, The Dragons' Trilogy. Set in China, the new piece—cowritten with Marie Michaud for Lepage's Ex Machina troupe—picks up 20 years after the previous one left off.
The Blue Dragon: Theater review by Helen Shaw
Every piece has a root chord, the emotional tone it strikes when all its instruments play together—and in Robert Lepage's West-meets-East drama The Blue Dragon, that chord is disorientation. Characterization and set drift as the mise en scène capitalizes on Lepage's near-magical transitions and a projection design full of rain and snow; our own emotions also float, untethered by performances that seem to come from far away.
Claire (Michaud) is gray from exhaustion and disoriented by 12-hour jet lag. Her old friend and lover Pierre (Lepage) is stunned by his diminishing expat life in an increasingly inhospitable Shanghai. Claire has come to China to adopt a child, hoping to use gallerist Pierre as her home base, but he is feeling rootless himself, unsure and hesitatingly in love with one of his young artists, Xiao Ling (Tai Wei Foo). As Claire's bumbling pursuit of the child progresses, each character's unsteadiness further destabilizes the other two until their individual desires start to blur and intermingle.
Physically, too, things melt into other things; projections of a calligraphy lesson (an inky line appearing on parchment) on the comic-book-panel set return later as a pregnancy test; blinds rise and fall to show us airports and then vistas behind a miniature train. Eventually, Xiao Ling's story about the ancient practice of surrendering an unwanted baby to the whims of a river infects the storytelling itself. The desultorily told plot drifts into three possible paths, and we're left without resolution as to which of the three “streams” our characters will really take.
That we aren't much bothered about their selection is the serious problem at the heart of Dragon. Lepage and Michaud's script hasn't got the level of complexity of, for instance, his multivariable meditation on the human voice, Lipsynch, and when the text tells a simple tale, it skates along the surface in a way that leaves us aloof. Of the three, only Xiao Ling is ever in true danger, yet her portrait remains the least convincing. (Tai Wei Foo's grace as a dancer does not extend to a dexterity with emotional outbursts.) It's therefore a boon that Dragon is comparatively brief (105 minutes), as the feeling of disconnection that it strives for can't, ultimately, bear a long duration.
Much of the work casts its mind backward: This Dragon revives a character from 1985's The Dragon Trilogy, so anyone still on tenterhooks about how Pierre Lamontagne handled moving to China will have that curiosity assuaged. For the rest of us, we struggle to worry for a man so clearly unworried for himself. When, near the end, he suddenly begins to tell us about his troubled relationship with his father, we're caught unawares. Were we meant to take him seriously? Too late. The piece seems to vanish into memory even as you watch it; the next day, the memories too have begun to fade.
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