THE MANSFIELD PROJECT Written and performed by Michele Smith, Dean Gilmour, Claire Calnan and Adam Paolozza, directed by Smith and Gilmour (Theatre Smith-Gilmour). At the Factory Studio (125 Bathurst). To April 13. Pwyc-$31. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNN
After seven years of successfully adapting Anton Chekhov’s stories for the stage, Theatre Smith-Gilmour has moved on to his New Zealand/English contemporary, Katherine Mansfield, who was a big Chekhov fan and short story innovator. The Mansfield Project displays the company’s theatrical ingenuity and playfulness, but something’s lost in translation.
Mansfield’s a more interior writer than Chekhov, who was a man of the stage. Her dialogue masks complex inner lives that breathe in print but are hard to evoke in any other medium. You can sense the company’s challenge in adapting four of her stories, and why they’ve often focused on individual scenes rather than the whole arc of a tale.
The show’s middle stories get the briefest treatment. Instead of the rich world of the masterpiece Prelude, we get a cute excerpt about children cavorting while a duck gets killed, all executed in Smith-Gilmour’s clown-based style. Fine – but slight. The story Carnation gets reduced to a one-note bit about a girl’s sexual imaginings during a French class. It’s more Catherine Cookson than Katherine Mansfield.
The first and last stories are more satisfying. Claire Calnan and Michele Smith capture the nervous childishness of the titular Daughters Of The Late Colonel. Dean Gilmour pops up to play both the arrogant patriarch, who still hovers over their lives, and a passive-aggressive nurse. The company’s staging throughout is miraculous, as is the quiet transition to the next scene, aided by the solo piano pieces played during the interludes.
The concluding piece is an adaptation of Mansfield’s unfinished story Six Years After. On board a ship, a woman (Smith) who refuses to acknowledge to her husband that she’s cold secretly mourns her son (Adam Paolozza), who was killed in the First World War.
Smith speaks her lines with a simplicity that makes her emotion more powerful, while Calnan and Paolozza complete the haunting stage picture as a pair of seagulls.
As the title implies, perhaps this is a project. If so, it’s not quite complete. Another story could end the piece more effectively. As it stands, the conclusion’s a little abrupt.