THE MADNESS OF THE SQUARE by Marjorie Chan, directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones (Cahoots/Factory at Factory, 125 Bathurst). Runs to May 3. Pwyc-$37. 416-504-9971. See listing. Rating: NNN
The youthful optimism of the thousands who filled Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, asking for freedom and justice, is palpable in Marjorie Chan’s The Madness Of The Square.
Just as touching is the loss of that hope in the government’s bloody action against the voices raised in peaceful protest.
It’s a tricky task to involve an audience in a work whose outcome is known, but Chan succeeds by drawing the portraits of six young people caught up in the action, notably Fan-Ying (Ella Chan), initially involved because of her classmates, who becomes increasingly politicized by the government’s stonewalling.
The playwright weaves several thematic strands into a complex story, including the relegation of women to secondary roles in the protest movement, generational conflict and sexual freedom. Some of these could be fleshed out further, but they add depth to the characters.
Director Ruth Madoc-Jones moves the action along briskly, making good use of Jamie Nesbitt’s projections and giving special poignancy to the poetic choral scenes.
The last part of the 90-minute show is gripping and passionate, as government forces close in emotionally and physically on the square’s occupiers. Here, designer Camellia Koo’s monolithic set – suggesting the vastness and grey bleakness of the square – is especially impressive, as is Trevor Schwellnus’s lighting, which suddenly and scarily pulls the audience into the action.