Review: A Fool’s Life (Ahuri Theatre in Association with Why Not Theatre)

I’m beginning to see a theme in the recent plays I’ve seen on behalf of MoT. I’m drawn to stories driven by intense emotion – passion, rage and obsession – yet still maintaining a sense of whimsy, of humor and also the macabre. Something that is in essence beautifully grotesque. The show I was asked to review last night covers all of that. Just in time to draw in a month of horror comes A Fool’s Life presented by Ahuri Theatre and Why Not Theatre based on the works of Akutagawa Ryunosuke.

The play is comprised of three short stories The Nose, Horse Legs and Hell Screen commonly narrated by Julian DeZotti portraying Akutagawa himself. In a series of flashbacks and memories, the production reflects the writer’s chaotic life and his battles with mental illness that ultimately lead to his suicide.

Part of the beauty of the production is the build up, starting with a humorous story of a monk dealing with an elephant trunk of a nose. The moral of inner beauty and what is better left untouched is inherent. Horse Legs is both hilarious yet alarming and tells of a dead man’s mix up in heaven, he is sent back to the living with the legs of a horse. But Hell Screen steals the show, a story about a painter obsessed with his work and commanded by the Emperor to paint a screen depicting hell. The painter’s obsession causes him the ultimate sacrifice.

There are so many elements that add to the beauty of this performance even considering the talent of the cast. Kagura drummer Gaishi Ishizaka added a level of sound and percussion that elevated the show to a whole new level propelled by the on stage use of movement, shadow puppetry, and artistic projections on a full paper set.

My date, Bob, was accompanying me for the evening and we were both blown away by the show. The choreography of the movement was exquisite; the acting, superb. Stand out performances came from Japanese actress Haruna Kondo for her dynamic bilingual delivery in Hell Screen and Claire Calnan for her narration in Horse Legs.

If you’re gearing up for a month of scares, start it off with A Fool’s Life playing at The Theatre Centre directed by Dan Watson and starring Julian DeZotti, Richard Lee, Derek Kwan, Claire Calnan and Haruna Kondo. You won’t be disappointed.


– A Fool’s Life is playing at The Theatre Centre (1087 Queen Street West) from September 30 – October 8, all shows are at 8 pm.
– Tickets are $20 and are available by phone by calling 416-538-0988 or online at Ahuri Theatre or ToTix.

Photo of Richard Lee and Claire Calnan by Katherine Sleitas