Joint female leads is a perfect way to give one of Shakespeare’s most overproduced plays the spark it needs, and a relevant contemporary touch. (Courtesy Studio Baron Photo, Repercussion Theatre)
The questions I’ve been asking myself since seeing Repercussion Theatre‘s Romeo & Juliet: Love is Love are these:
What do I, as a snobby Shakespearophile want to see in a production?
What do I hope others see?
What is the best way to produce something the masses will come out to?
How many jokes are too many jokes? (It’s always fewer than you think…)
The Bard Brawlers have said more than once we feel R&J is a play produced far too often, that many productions miss key points in the play, and that there are better plays dealing with love in the cannon.
That aside, Amanda Kellock‘s innovation, artistic direction, and interpretation of the play makes the current production well world a look.
“In sadness, cousin, I do love a woman,”
– Romeo; I,i
First, and most poignantly, Romeo (Shauna Thompson) and Juliet (Michelle Rambharose) are both female.
Thus, the early line, “In sadness, cousin, I do love a woman,” takes on a whole different meaning, importance and, in this production, power. Thompson’s delivery off it actually gave me some shivers.
Everything about this play depends on the leads, and Thompson and Rambharose are both excellent. In past productions and films I’ve caught, Mercutio and Tybalt can steal the show, but in this production they certainly do not (more on that later). The two women are tender and scared and erratic with their affection, which is the key to Romeo and Juliet.
The two lovers are very young, very excitable, very immature and very erratic.
Remember, SPOILER ALERT, Romeo kills two people in the play, falls in and out of love with one, while in love with another, and kills herself rather than waiting a damn second to think about what she’s doing. Geez. Chill.
Thompson gets there. Her range is on display throughout and she traverses the inconstant Romeo’s emotions with tact and care.
In addition to the leads, Capulet (Mr. and Ms.) are gender swapped, as is Benvolio.
Capulet (Nadia Verrucci) is the scene stealer if there is one. When onstage, she is a presence to be reckoned with and her ability to go from funny to down right frightening is effective to be sure. When she reams out Tybalt (Patrick Jeffrey), you get that cringy, watching-someone’s-mom-ream-their-kid-out-in-public-feeling that shows who has power, and why the landscape has degraded to the point it’s at: IE, the streets are a battleground between two gangster families.
So we come to the point where a critic must be a critic. Romeo and Juliet’s Verona is a dangerous, dirty place where two groups of people have been street brawling (bing) for some time. Benvolio, Romeo, Tybalt, Mercutio and that rest have been duking it out on the streets for so long that the prince declares a death sentence if it happens again.
“To wield old partisans in hands as old,Cankered with peace, to part your cankered hate.If ever you disturb our streets again,Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.For this time, all the rest depart away,”– Prince, I, i
In Repercussion’s production, Tybalt and Mercutio (Adam Capriolo) never seem that fierce. Mercutio in particular goes for far too many laughs. His character is, no doubt, funny and lusty, but he’s also got some venom in him that it’s hard to see in this production. He did get a lot of laughs at the production I was at, but could have had some gasps and shivers too, which is a shame. One less joke and perhaps one more bee sting were in order.
Oh, and on the topic of laughs, audiences need to stop waiting to laugh and laughing at things that aren’t funny! Ugh, using fabric as blood is not funny! It’s tragic if you let it be, and allow some discomfort. (Rant over)
Two last things: the set and costumes are perfect for this play. Sophie el Assaad’s colour and style palette is sharp and perfect for the production, and the set is slick without being over-designed. Top marks.
The play runs to August 8 in and around Montreal, and is donation-based. Check it out. Bring a blanket or chair and something in case it gets cold (it did on Friday for sure).
Oh, and wear this jacket if you have it because it rules:
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