Dragon all smoke, but no fire in the belly

Mirvish’s latest production falls short under weight of expectations


When it comes to theatrical directors in recent memory, there are few who have received greater accolades in Canada and around the world than Quebec’s Robert LePage. Still in his early 50s, he has acted (in the wonderful Jesus of Montreal), directed everywhere from Sweden to New York’s Metropolitan Opera and written highly praised works of theatre. The Cirque du Soleil production he directed, Totem, was one of the most entertaining and visually stunning productions I’ve seen. So why on earth was I so deeply bored by one of his latest creations, The Blue Dragon, now running at the Royal Alexandra Theatre through Feb. 19?

LePage is nothing if not visually creative: throughout the 90-minute production, there are moments of great beauty, surprise and even profound pleasure. We see a French-Canadian artist explain the intricacies of Chinese calligraphy, painting letters on the floor in front of him, which appear at the same moment in images a hundred times in size on screens behind him. A two-level platform becomes the inside of a jet plane, then a restaurant, a train station and the skyline of Shanghai. Three performers speak in Chinese, French and English, with subtitles flashed across the centre of a screen behind their movements. Now and then, we see gorgeous dances, which echo the emotions of various performers, and even the famous Communist Chinese ballets popular under Chairman Mao. There are endless projections, even film clips, and the stage is chopped up before our eyes allowing viewers to focus on the concerns and actions of one, then two or all three protagonists.

The problem, at least for this critic? We never get a chance to care about Pierre, the failed middle-aged artist who has escaped from Quebec to come to China, or the beautiful young Chinese woman with whom he is having an affair, not to mention Pierre’s former lover who has come to town in an attempt to adopt a Chinese baby. There are shocking, even shattering explosions of Chinese music that go nowhere. Pierre fears emotional involvement, but so what? Evil, capitalist developers threaten to gobble up his apartment and gallery, but we never really feel strongly about anything. There are beautiful rainfalls, gorgeous lightning and terrifying thunder, but so often as to be tedious. And the quality of the writing is so prosaic and dull as to be forgotten within seconds after someone speaks.

Yes, there are some unforgettable and ingenious scenes (I loved the three different endings thrown at us). Is Robert LePage a genius? I certainly was not left with that impression from seeing this surprisingly uninvolving play. Does he have a great eye and an impressive sense of colour, dance, choreography and how to create visual imagery? Undeniably. A man of talent, no doubt. A giant of heightened words and intelligent theatre? Very little of that is hinted at in The Blue Dragon.

Join the conversation and have your say by commenting below. Our comment system uses a Facebook plugin. Please note that you'll have to turn off some ad-blockers in order to see the comments.

Edit Module

Follow us on Twitter @PostCity for more on what to eat, where to shop and what to do in Toronto.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

You may also like...

A Star Wars Day survival guide for noobs

A Star Wars Day survival guide for noobs

In the spirit of faking it, here is what you need to do and know to pretend you are a Star Wars connoisseur.
Posted 1 day ago
T.O.’s Rebecca Liddiard in Houdini & Doyle, premieres tonight

T.O.’s Rebecca Liddiard in Houdini & Doyle, premieres tonight

And that’s a good attitude since she is starring in the decidedly eerie new 10-part series, Houdini & Doyle, premiering May 2 on Global.
Posted 3 days ago
Attawapiskat band Midnight Shine in T.O. next week

Attawapiskat band Midnight Shine in T.O. next week

Canadian Music Week sees hundreds of bands descending on Toronto, aspiring to fulfil their dreams. But for Attawapiskat-based group Midnight Shine, it’s a chance to give hope to a community in severe distress.
Posted 6 days ago
One Man Star Wars hits Toronto tonight

One Man Star Wars hits Toronto tonight

When you grow up in a remote part of British Columbia and have little entertainment, a copy of the Star Wars trilogy on VHS comes in handy. So much so, that actor Charles Ross watched it more than 300 times, basically committing much of it to memory.
Posted 1 week ago
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module