IN THE PINES adapted by Brenhan McKibben and Red One Theatre, directed by McKibben and Benjamin Blais (Red One/Yabu No Naka Co-op/Campbell House). At Campbell House Museum, (160 Queen West). Runs through Monday (October 31), 7 and 9 pm. $20. redonetheatre.com. See listing. Rating: NNN
You'll know the story of In The Pines best from the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon, though director Martin Ritt later gave it a western setting in The Outrage.
Red One Theatre and Yabu No Naka Co-op set their version in Upper Canada and give the production an elegant, atmospheric look by staging the action in Campbell House, built in 1822.
The bloody body of a military man is found in the forest of the title, his body discovered by a woodcutter. Who killed him, and why? We hear testimonies from his wife as well as a disreputable guy who's been arrested for the deed and even - via a medium - the dead man himself.
The production's structure has a hook to the venue itself; William Campbell, the house's first resident, was a judge who travelled around the region of York (later Toronto) adjudicating cases. Each of the witnesses in the tale -- who include a priest, the woman's sister and a constable -- speak to the unseen judge, providing their account of what happened or what they think happened.
Based on the writing of Japanese author Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the narrative points to the endless possibilities and subjective nature of truth. But the production, in part because of its staging and the brief, dramatic performances, doesn't get caught up in philosophical musings.
As the audience moves from room to room, following a chorus of women who both sing and lead the way, we're offered different viewpoints of the event. These come from the breathless woodcutter (a fine Tim Walker), a pair of French Canadian women (Lorna Wright as the widow and Kate Ziegler as her sister) and the supposed murderer, here portrayed as a Shiner, an Irish labourer looked down on by the British upper classes (an incisive, nuanced Sebastian Pigott).
As the murdered man, David Tompa is also haunting, though if you're unfamiliar with the original story you won't know that the figure with him is the medium who conjures him from beyond the grave.
It's a good tale for Halloween time, the rooms lit largely by candles or firelight, suggestively created by designer Melissa Joakim. The flickering lights and crackling, aromatic fires lend a wonderful texture to the production.
The details of the various stories are sometimes hard to sort out much less fit together, but that's part of the point: we can never know all of the truth.