Review of I Swallowed A Moon Made of Iron

by Lynn on May 21, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Poems by Xu Lizhi

Composed, directed and performed by Njo Kong Kie

Set and lighting by Fung Kwok Kee Gabriel

Photographer/filmmaker, Ao Ieong Weng Fong

Sound by Ryan McNabbe

Video designed by Nicholas Yee

Shattering and exquisite.

Xu Lizhi was a promising poet in China. He wrote about the working class and the soul crushing, grinding work for the electronics complex of Foxconn in the Shenzhou. He worked there to support himself. The work was so emotionally, physically and spiritually debilitating that in 2010 fourteen workers committed suicide. In 2014 Xu Lizhi took his own life as well. He was 24 years-old. Interestingly his poems, essays etc. were first published in the company’s newsletter. Astonishing.

Njo Kong Kie, the force behind such beautiful pieces of theatres as: Mr. Shi and His Lover and Picnic in the Cemetery has helped create this show devoted to several of Xu Lizhi’s poems. He has created the music for several of the poems. He plays the music on a grand piano while he sings the ‘poems.’ The lyrics are projected on the back wall of the theatre for us to read as Njo Kong Kie plays and sings.

The poems describe a life of despair at the drudgery of the work and how the chemicals and metals poison a person both physically and emotionally. The writing is lyrical, sensitive, evocative, imagistic and so compelling. You listen/read the words of Xu Lizhi and you are heartsick at the gifted poet we lost by his having committed suicide.

I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron is a show that devotes all its attention to illuminating the words as simply and as clearly as possible. Njo Kong Kie wears pressed jeans, a work shirt and Chinese slippers when he plays the piano and sings. The lyrics are beautifully, clearly illuminated by Fung Kwok Kee Gabriel and the size of the font is perfect to read.

There were even photos of the small room in which Xu Lizhi lived projected on the back wall. Dispiriting is one word to describe it. The hot plate on which he made tea etc. was rusting. There were stains on the walls. The furnishings were junk. So imagine it, Xu Lizhi works endless hours in the factory screwing electronic parts of devices, thus subjecting himself to poisons from chemicals, rust and fumes etc. and then he has to go home to a ‘hole.’ It would take the heart and soul out of any man. And yet from this drudgery came exquisite poems, deep, rich and evocative of a life being ground down. Here is an example of the work. So worth your time to discover this gifted man:

“I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron

I swallowed a moon made of iron
They refer to it as a nail
I swallowed this industrial sewage, these unemployment documents
Youth stooped at machines die before their time
I swallowed the hustle and the destitution
Swallowed pedestrian bridges, life covered in rust
I can’t swallow any more
All that I’ve swallowed is now gushing out of my throat
Unfurling on the land of my ancestors
Into a disgraceful poem.”

— 19 December 2013

Canadian Stage Presents:

From: May 16, 2019.

Closes: May 26, 2019.

Running Time: 60 minutes

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