Sunday, 22 July 2012

Shakespeare in the Park

I had my first real theatre experience in Montreal last night. Sadly, I neglected to take pictures. I did take a picture of the program which I intended to post with this post, but sadly, I also neglected to recharge the battery after leaving the thing on for a couple hours the other day. Ooops.

So, my commentary will have to suffice, without any sort of visuals.

Shakespeare in the park is a tradition that happens in many parks all over the world. Happily, it is also a tradition in my own backyard park in Westmount, as I found out upon my return from Austin. On offer this year was The Taming of the Shrew, a play I've seen once, but had never read, so I will be unable to comment on the faithfulness to the script, though I do know they cleverly cut it short when it began to rain towards the end of the second half.

The stage was simple (as outdoor stages must be) but effective, and well lent to the humorous nature of the play, with a hole in the center of the stage frequently being used to garner laughs from the audience, and also as an effective portal for quick entries and exits. Props were minimal, but also put to good use. For those of you unfamiliar, Shrew is one of the comedies, which, of course, means everyone winds up married by the end. Spoilers! Not really.

The costumes were a bizarre, vibrant mix of time periods, which might best be described as a thrift store raid, ranging from a 1920's-esque smoking jacket, to the country home uniform of an English gentleman (tweed cap, scarf, macintosh) to a full on baby blue disco suit, worn by the incredibly lanky Petruchio (take a moment, and picture it please, baby blue disco pants on four and a half foot long freaking legs).

Casting was excellent, with actors being well physically matched to their characters (caricatures?). Hortensio, Bianca's long time suitor, who also happens to be something of a fool, was played by an adorably short redhead by the name of Stephen Joffe. This in contrast to Petruchio, Bianca's sister Kate's husband and "tamer", who was, as I said, absurdly tall, which perfectly matched the absurd, witty, over the top nature of the character. The actor, Alex McCooeye, definitely knew how to make good use of his lanky body to best comedic effect. Think Jack Skellington or Watanuki from XXXholic.  Kate, the shrew herself, was also well cast, a bundle of sex and sass (and the actress hailed from Saskatchewan!). The play also did a new take on the character of Bianca, which I appreciated. The "humble" "beautiful" maid was also something of a spoiled brat, and absolutely flip. Very much a stereotypical "baby of  the family". 

Although the play was almost painfully over the top at first, which made me a little uncomfortable, once I got into it, I found that the over-the-top-ness was actually incredibly well-suited to the Shakespearean comedy. The extravagance of the acting made the wordplay much easier to follow, and much more enjoyable. The extra "modern" jokes thrown in (like Hortensio strumming a broken ukulele and singing "O bianca, thou breakest my heart, thou shakest mine confidence daily" after the fashion of Simon and Garfunkel)  added to the essence of the Shakespearean play rather than took away from it. I felt like the actors had opportunity to put a lot of themselves and their own humor into the characters, and it came off very nicely. Petruchio's servant Curtis was especially well done in this regard.

 Too frequently, Shakespeare is taken too seriously, and we forget the nature of the audience he would initially have been catering to. These would have been the largely uneducated masses, who only came for a good laugh and a good time. This production of Taming of the Shrew truly got back to that essence of the Shakespearean comedy.

I would also like to applaud the actors, as they are currently halfway through an absolutely grueling  schedule of performances, beginning on July 19th and continuing through August 19th, with stagings occurring in parks all over Montreal. This is an incredibly high energy show, with women being tossed around like sacks of flour, dancing, singing, and a whole lot of screaming. Already the wear was starting to show a bit in their voices, so I wish them luck in powering through the next couple weeks of performances.

Overall, well done. I am hoping to start following the Repercussion Theatre company more closely, as I have been somewhat starved for theatre since coming to Montreal, and this has just served to whet rather than sate my appetite.

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