The Blue Dragon
By Robert Lepage and Marie Michaud
Directed by Robert Lepage
June 9-13, 2009
Photo: Érick Labbé
Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Robert Lepage. In case you don’t recognize the last name in the foregoing list of auteurs, it may be because Lepage, head of the multidisciplinary Canadian company Ex Machina, works primarily on the stage (although he also has a number of films to his credit). But anybody who saw “The Andersen Project” at Berkeley Rep a few seasons ago or his amazing production of “The Rake’s Progress” at San Francisco Opera last year will not easily forget Robert Lepage.
The director/author/actor brought his latest triumph, “The Blue Dragon,” winner of the 2007 Europe Theater Prize, to Cal Performances in Berkeley and it was a two-hour feast for the eye. The story, a continuation of the tale he began in “The Dragon Trilogy,” was co-written with his co-star, Marie Michaud. Dancer Tai Wei Foo completes the cast. It’s a less-than-compelling tale about a disillusioned middle aged Canadian artist (Lepage), living and working in China, caught between his Canadian ex-wife (Michaud) and his young Chinese lover (Foo). What is riveting is the way it is told.
Using every technological tool in the box, Lepage and his crew, set designer Michel Gauthier, lighting designer Louis-Xavier Gagnon-Lebrun and projection designer David Leclerc, have created a visual feast for the eye. We have spectacular thunderstorms and gentle snow. We travel on planes and cunning little high-speed trains, boats and bikes. Pierre – the protagonist’s – loft apartment morphs into an art gallery and then, with the slide of a flat and the blink of a light you are on the streets of Shanghai, or in the airport or waiting on the platform for a train. Projections range from patriotic Red Army formations to ancient calligraphy to a young woman’s artistic creations, based on photos she has taken with her cell phone. Periodically the whole thing is punctuated with the exquisite dancing of Foo (who also did the choreography), expressing a mood or commenting on a plot turn. The whole thing is stage magic at its most enchanting.
It’s probably a good thing that the story is a simple one or you might not be able to take it all in. Claire (Michaud) has come to China to adopt a baby, a project that gets fouled up in the inevitable red tape, an airline mishap and Claire’s own problem with alcohol. Meanwhile, Ling, Pierre’s Chinese lover, discovers she is pregnant with his child. The outcome hinges on one of those “pick-your-own-ending” devices and is alternately tender and hilarious. The story also comments on the changes that are taking place in modern China as it pushes its way into the world economy. The acting is good, realistic and almost improvisational. But you won’t be able to take your eyes from the marvels being created on the stage. And that’s how “The Blue Dragon” winds you in its coils, not to release you until the house lights come up.