A Fool’s Life
Written and directed by Dan Watson
Featuring Claire Calnan, Julian DeZotti, Haruna Kondo, Derek Kwan, and Richard Lee
Live percussion by Gaishi Ishizaka
Runs until October 8, 2011 @ The Theatre Centre
By Kerry Freek
Are you ready to be enchanted?
Inspired by the life and short stories of Japanese writer Akutagawa Ryunosuke, Ahuri Theatre’s A Fool’s Life is thoroughly delightful, balancing the right mix of magic, absurdity, and darkness with an impressive focus on movement.
Three stories, “The Nose,” “Horse Legs,” and “Hell Screen,” receive the Ahuri treatment. While Ryunosuke died in 1927, director Dan Watson crafts a modern spins when needed without losing Ryunosuke’s original magic. His well chosen cast is talented, funny, and energetic: Claire Calnan is delightfully expressive in the first vignette, playing a monk with an exceptional nose. In the second story, Derek Kwan grows horse legs with ease, galloping about the stage. Japan-based actor Haruna Kondo stands out: she’s particularly wonderful as a crazed, crippled old artist in the final story, writhing in agony and ecstasy as her character struggles to complete his ultimate work—a screen depicting Buddhist hell. Together, the cast performs its choreography with ease and humour, tumbling from one scene to the next.
Throughout the show, the set becomes another character. Simple and made of paper, it moves with the actors to become everything from a bedroom to office cubicles. Low-fi but attractive projections grace the set’s permanent walls, and the fragile paper aesthetic is carried over to the wardrobe, which use earth tones to accent rather than overpower actors’ expressions and movement.
While each tale links to the overarching story of the narrator (Julian DeZotti) and his family life, the connections are merely faint wisps and the concept fails to fully make the connection. There are a few moments of awkward transition—the implied infidelity between “The Nose” and “Horse Legs,” for example. That said, Gaishi Ishizaka’s live percussive soundtrack does provide a subtle narrative thread, adding the final polish to the production.
Overall, Watson uses Ryunosuke’s stories effectively, and Ahuri hooks audiences with precise, expert storytelling that makes A Fool’s Life well worth seeing. Twice.