Robert Lepage's Blue Dragon has spectacular imagery, thin story

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      By Marie Michaud and Robert Lepage. Directed by Robert Lepage. An Ex Machina production. Presented by SFU Contemporary Arts and the Cultural Olympiad with Théí¢tre La Seizií¨me. At SFU at Woodward’s Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre on Thursday, February 4. Continues until February 27

      The stagecraft is extraordinary. The storytelling isn’t.

      In The Blue Dragon, writers Marie Michaud and Robert Lepage check in on Pierre Lamontagne, the central character of The Dragons’ Trilogy, which Michaud and Lepage premiered in 1985. In The Blue Dragon, Pierre is a 50-year-old art dealer living in Shanghai and conducting an affair with a young artist named Xiao Ling. Their already shaky relationship gets more complicated when Claire Forêt, a former lover of Pierre’s, shows up planning to adopt a Chinese toddler.

      Unfortunately, it’s hard to get into this story, partly because Lepage’s flat performance as Pierre is such an energy-sucking black hole that the supposed romantic tensions make no sense. The written characterization is also weak. The title refers to a tattoo on Pierre’s back, and he talks about the darkness it represents. But what the hell is that darkness and what is its source? Pierre tells us that he had a strict, emotionally unavailable father. It’s not enough.

      The narrative doesn’t gain any traction until the two women essentially decide to dump Pierre and become friends. Claire’s adoption plans haven’t worked out, and Xiao Ling discovers she’s pregnant. Will Claire adopt Xiao Ling’s baby? At last, something comprehensible is at stake.

      Michaud is a warmly appealing performer and Claire is recognizable and sympathetic: an alcoholic, 46-year-old advertising executive who’s desperate to make a human connection. Claire’s relationship to Xiao Ling also raises questions about exploitation and benefit.

      Still, the narrative is less than complex and it’s riddled with holes. Why does Xiao Ling so eagerly adopt her lover’s ex as a friend and start sharing intimate moments with her, for instance? Yes, a mother-daughter relationship emerges, but doesn’t Xiao Ling have any pals of her own?

      Fortunately, the stage pictures that director Lepage and his collaborators create on Michel Gauthier’s fabulous machine of a set are gorgeous. On a bicycle, its suspended wheels spinning in the air, Pierre pedals through what looks like a watercolour of the Chinese countryside as Tai Wei Foo, who plays Xiao Ling, performs a communist-style ballet, complete with a rifle and what appears to be a tattoo gun. In a multipanelled video montage, the Yangtze Kiang or Blue River snakes in sensuous rhythms. And in a masterful passage, points of light—maybe stars—float on closed panels that open one at a time to reveal the story of Pierre’s relationship with Xiao Ling: they meet when she tattoos him; they go on a bicycle ride; he views their child for the first time.

      The lavish stage pictures in The Blue Dragon will be enough for many viewers. For me, the imagery is a spectacular pedestal that supports too little in the way of story and ideas.

      Comments

      4 Comments

      Christine Lattey

      Feb 10, 2010 at 5:02pm

      The much anticipated Opening Night of the Blue Dragon was a huge disappoinment. The sets were spectacular, other worldly, but the contrast with the thin plot and really bad acting of Robert Lepage left me uninvolved throughout most of the performance. Definitely not up to his previous work.

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      Doug Williams

      Feb 12, 2010 at 9:15am

      The acting was wooden, the pace glacial, the script thin and dull.
      Visually interesting but often just too cute. This did not live up to the hype.
      I've seen better theatre at semi-professional companies. And it didn't cost me sixty bucks.

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      strangedust

      Feb 13, 2010 at 6:48pm

      Surprisingly trite and inane play from a supposedly theatre powerhouse. Lepage's Mandarin was incoherent and only came off as an attempt at ego-boosting and capitalizing on the obvious international market and the 'it' country at the moment: China. Unfortunately for Lepage this whole thing only came off like an updated version of Madame Butterfly, equally stereotypical and one-dimensional, reducing, yet again, the 'orient' to something fragile, submissive, unable to function without the aid of the West, as well as perpetually pretty, ethereal, soft, feminine and mysterious, epitomized by the dance sequences. During a talk Lepage stated this was inspired by a Tintin story, which was a racist French comic, and the only thing Lepage had to go by before devling into this culturally-simplifying, style-over-substance vacuous spectacle.

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      Anthony F. Ingram

      Feb 18, 2010 at 6:25pm

      This is the third Lepage production I've seen, and with each production my frustration mounts. Yes, Lepage creates lovely stage magic. But he seems to have trouble creating theatrical magic; that is, where the audience is moved or has at least one moment of emotional/spiritual transformation. Blue Dragon is the least successful of the three I have seen.

      The first Lepage show I saw was Polygraph. I walked out of that show thinking to myself, "You know, if I had the time and (particularly) the money, I'm pretty sure that I could create stage magic like that." Now, having seen Blue Dragon and having recently directed 36 VIEWS for Tempus Theatre, I'm even more convinced of this. There were theatrical tricks in Blue Dragon which were precisely what I was hoping to create for 36 VIEWS but could not because I just don't have the money to invest in technology, nor in the time in takes to experiment with the technology available to me. I may be biased, but I think 36 VIEWS was a much more powerful script than Blue Dragon.

      With the cuts that seem guaranteed to provincial arts funding, it seems highly likely that I and other British Columbian artists like me, will never get the tools or support with which we could one-up Lepage with better stage-craft and better scripts.

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