LU XUN BLOSSOMS created and performed by the company, directed by Dean Gilmour and Michelle Smith (Theatre Smith-Gilmour). At the Isabel Bader (93 Charles West). To June 18. $46.50-$56.50. See listing. Rating: NNNN
LU XUN blossoms, the first Sino-Canadian co-production in theatre, is a cross-cultural coup. Local theatre-lovers know Theatre Smith-Gilmour's adaptations of literary classics by Anton Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield and others. Now they've ventured outside the Western canon to adapt, with three Chinese artists, several stories by the writer Lu Xun. The result, performed in English and Mandarin (with projected English translations), is a fascinating experience befitting an ambitious international festival like Luminato.
In their signature style that involves lots of physicality and minimal props for maximum theatricality, the company has adapted five Lu Xun stories. Most of them concern compassion and crises of conscience. In the brief opening tale, for instance, the author himself (Dean Gilmour) is haunted by an incident that occurred years earlier, when he recklessly forced a rickshaw driver to cause an accident and be punished.
Another bittersweet story concerns the author as a young boy who seeks vengeance on all felines after someone lied to him that a cat had eaten his pet mouse.
Frequently stories occur within stories, and it's easy to get lost amidst the various strands. But the staging is richly theatrical, and occasionally the company breaks out and illustrates something with great wit. In the story about cat devouring the mouse, for instance, Gilmour plays both cat and mouse, a physical feat that needs to be seen to be believed.
The final and most developed of the five stories is also the most poignant. A young widow (Zhao Sihan) comes to work as a maid for a wealthy couple, but is kidnapped by her in-laws and sold to another man. She soon becomes a mother and is happy until tragedy befalls her. Cast out by her second set of in-laws, she returns to her original employers, but she's haunted by her past and ignored by the community.
The way the narrative is developed (against the backdrop of a New Year's celebration) is as sophisticated as anything in a mid-period Alice Munro story, but the company, aided by Kimberly Purtell's lighting and Gilmour and Michelle Smith's confident direction, makes sure every detail resonates.
Zhao and her Chinese colleagues Guo Hongbo and Wang Yangmeizi are versatile enough performers to suggest a gallery of characters - human, animal or otherwise - with minimal effort. There's an especially good evocation of shifting moods, caught in a few quick brushstrokes.
The company understands that tragedy is deeper when ordinary life goes on around it. They understand that even when a woman is reduced to poverty, fishermen will comically plunk their lines into a pond or that dragons in a parade or statues outside a home will attempt, for a while, to scare away evil spirits.