Richard Lee (left), Derek Kwan, Julian DeZotti, Haruna Kondo and Claire Calnan bring stories to life.
A FOOL’S LIFE by Dan Watson (Ahuri/Why Not Theatre). At the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). To October 8. 416-538-0988. See listing. Rating: NNNN
In A Fool's Life, Ahuri Theatre brings Japanese writer Akutagawa Ryunosuke's stories to the stage with great physical and linguistic whimsy, offering a sympathetic but subtle portrait of a writer who, plagued by schizophrenia, killed himself at the age of 35.
Under playwright Dan Watson's agile direction, the physically and aurally dynamic ensemble (Derek Kwan, Claire Calnan, Richard Lee and Haruna Kondo) tells the stories of a man for whom suffering was also fuel for creativity. From Akutagawa's troubled mind came his lucid, occasionally monstrous tales: The Nose, a comical story of an insecure monk and his considerable proboscis; Horse Legs, about an ordinary man who receives the titular appendages; and finally, Hell Screen, featuring a painter who commits to his work with caustic consequences.
Akutagawa (Julian DeZotti) serves as unwitting MC, weaving the stories together with a description of the mythical Kappa, an eerie creature that offers its unborn the right to refuse birth. Stories flow from DeZotti's childlike Akutagawa as fluently as the smoke from his cigarette smouldering before the luminous paper set, each new tale overtaking him whether he wants it to or not.
Designers Sean Frey and Sonja Rainey add texture to the stories, projecting blossoms, leaves, shadows and paint onto their versatile backdrop to conjure both innocence and dread. Gaishi Ishizaka's sensitive percussion intensifies the drama and humour of the highly physical performances, perfectly responding to the tension in the scenes.
Body and mind, treachery and salvation - the Ahuri company marry these dichotomies with wit and grace, celebrating Akutagawa's art with a little bit of magic while showing compassion for a man who, while obsessed with myth and magic, proves undeniably human.