Masculine … from left, Renato Musolino, Sam Smith and Wade Briggs in rehearsals. Photo: Tamara Dean
The young trainer of a killer whale has a leg torn off and faces death; an amateur boxer with brittle bones descends into bareknuckle fights and must face his sins.
The ''dark poetry'' of Toronto writer Craig Davidson's short story collection Rust and Bone was so attractive to the Sydney playwright Caleb Lewis that he braided three of its stories together for a play opening this week.
Five years ago, Lewis secured the world stage rights to adapt three of Davidson's 10 stories from the 2005 collection: Rocket Ride, the whale trainer tale; 27 Bones, the boxer yarn, originally titled Rust and Bone; and A Mean Utility, in which a couple struggling to get pregnant sublimate that desire into breeding pit bulls for fights.
When Lewis contacted the writer, he discovered the lauded French director Jacques Audiard had just secured the movie rights to the same three stories.
Through an unlikely coincidence, Sydney audiences will have a chance to see the stage version of Rust and Bone at the Stables Theatre - with Wade Briggs as the whale trainer and Renato Musolino the boxer, directed by Corey McMahon - then, in the cinema in March, see Audiard's take on the stories.
Audiard dropped the dog fight story and flicked the gender switch: Marion Cotillard plays the whale trainer in the French-language movie.
Davidson, meanwhile, is chuffed: the adaptation interest in Rust and Bone has revived his literary career.
The self-deprecating Canadian writer, who edits the body-building magazine Musclemag International and has been mentored in his fiction writing by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk, says of Rust and Bone's movie script: ''The film will outshine the book. Audiard has elevated it to something I simply wasn't capable of expressing back when I wrote it.
''Jacques found such wonderful connections, sharpened the characters and gave the film something I struggle with: a deep romantic context. It's a love story, albeit a tortured one.''
Davidson says of the Australian stage adaptation: ''It's the first of its kind … Caleb's an exceptionally talented playwright so the book couldn't have found itself in any more capable hands.
''I've read Caleb's play and I think it cleaves a little closer to the bones of the book than the film.''
In Audiard's film, the director connects the characters' physical weaknesses to the way their lives unfold. Cotillard's character from the Rocket Ride story falls in love with the boxer from 27 Bones, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, drawing the unrelated short stories together.
In Lewis's very different stage adaptation, the three stories are interwoven: actors are called on to play multiple characters. ''It's like a dance,'' says Lewis. ''There are sudden shifts in time and character; we're constantly moving in space and it's demanding of the actors. Corey's cast it really well, so I'm pretty happy.''
Lewis admits he had a ''fair amount of panic'' when he first learnt Audiard's film was coming out. However, he says he and Audiard were attracted to the strong and ''undeniably masculine'' writing.
''I first saw the book when I was in the Dymocks on George Street … and what struck me was that, despite the ugliness and the brutality of this world that he presented, there were these glimmering moments of vulnerability which really struck me.''
Audiard, whose last film was the critically acclaimed A Prophet, has said of the adaptation: ''Craig Davidson's short stories were a complete universe - the kids, the fights, the atmosphere of devastation and crisis.
''We were just coming out of A Prophet, a movie of jail and men, no light, no space, no women, no love. Here I wanted to go into the opposite direction with a strong female character. We really imposed a love story on Craig's stories.''
Rust and Bone previews from tonight and opens on Friday at the Stables Theatre. The film Rust and Bone opens on March 28.