Romeo and Juliet in the cemetery. Appropriate setting, no? It’s the annual Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of Repercussion Theatre in its Montreal premier at Mt Royal Cemetery. A few hundred of us are gathered on lawn chairs and blankets with baguettes and wine, anticipating this most cherished of love-you-to-death stories.
In the capable hands of Amanda Kellock, who has done the Bard proud over the past few summers, this performance aims to inject a note of gender flexibility into the story. Why not? Love between same-sexes existed long before 1597, when Romeo and Juliet was first published. However, tinkering with the characters of a Shakespearean play is a bit like adding notes to a Beatles song: Everyone knows the tune. And everyone knows Romeo as a young man. Here, Romeo, as played by Shauna Thompson, is a woman (Juliet and Julia?). As well, some of the supporting cast do not seem to match their stereotypic personalities.
First kudos, then quibbles. Five bows to Lady Capulet, skillfully played by Anton May. She is regal, both in presence and in voice. In fact, she is the adult in the room— while the balcony scene where R & J gush over each other— ‘But soft! What light through yonder window breaks. . . ‘ is touching, in an amateurish way. Another highlight: When Paris, capably played by Ray Jacildo, breaks into song, it lifts the stage. The dance delivers a sense of the throbbing eroticism that underlies the scene where R & J fall hard for each other. Ryan Bommarito as the friar is excellent (although we expect a more corpulent holy man). In the  movie version— still the gold standard in film interpretations— the most affecting scene was the final one, where the friar apologizes for his part in the climactic double suicide. Patrick Jeffrey gives a good portrayal of Tybalt, that angry young man. The nurse— silly babbling affectionate nursey, who enables Juliet’s illicit passion— is wonderful, as played by Gitanjali Jain (also Sound Composer). Okay, then. Much to love.
As for quibbles: Adam Capriolo as Mercutio and the Prince is preferable in the latter role and more convincing drunk than sober. Mercutio, according to the text, is a fiery buck— best friend and cousin to Romeo. He initiates the tragedy with a duel against Tybalt, an equally macho guy from Juliet’s clan. (They are coached by Fight Director Michelle Lewis.) In this rendition, Capriolo’s Mercutio is a mincing, prancing drama queen. He’s the orator of one of the most memorable monologues in English literature— the Queen Mab speech— and, sorry to say, he doesn’t do it justice. Instead of allowing the words to carry us away, his dramatic flourishes ride hard over the lines. As for Juliet, she handles some ponderous lines but someone should remind her that lowering doesn’t rhyme with showering.
In this audience were the usual grannies and professors, but also a hot chick wearing a Babes Against Bullshit t-shirt, some teenagers who looked the same age as Juliet (not quite 14), a dogsbody or two, and even a few real babes. For those of us who were weaned on Shakespeare, not a bad way to while away a summer night. But if this is your introduction to Romeo and Juliet, all I can say is, See the movie.
Romeo and Juliet will be performed all ‘round the island (our island, not Shakespeare’s) and as far away as Ontario. Check for the schedule on Repercussion’s website (http://www.repercussiontheatre.com).