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What better way to celebrate summer— especially for lovers of English lit— than Shakespeare in the park (SITP)? At Jarry Park on a Sunday evening, SITP seems custom-made for reaffirming Canada’s heritage as well as diversity, and enjoying some live entertainment under the stars.
Although they can be challenging for actors and audience, Shakespeare’s comedies are loaded with larky, cheeky fun: love gone wrong and re-righted, betrayals, murders, women playing Julius Caesar, Brutus and the rest of the guys . . . . Oops. Sorry! That was last year’s SITP.
This summer the Repercussion Theatre, one of the city’s best, serves up ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. The play is scheduled to unfold in various venues around the city, with the season concluding in Greenfield Park on August 15.
And what’s all the ado about? As is often the case with Will Shakespeare, it’s a story of love laced with treachery and trickery. The main plot line is the love affair between Claudio and Hero, but the sub-plots are more complicated— and more interesting. Like The ‘Taming of the Shrew’, Much Ado features a beautiful bitch in the form of Beatrice and her quarrelsome potential partner Benedick. The prince’s half-brother, Don John, is determined to cause mischief. (He has an attitude, apparently, because Don Pedro, not he, is heir to the crown.)
Some critics have made the point that Don John is the malevolent star of the play. He lurks in the background, stirring up trouble between Claudio and Hero, those innocents whose wedding bans are announced, celebrated, retracted, then reinstated in the course of this two-hour soap opera.
However, in the eyes of many theatre-goers, the dueling duo of Beatrice and Benedick are the story line. They seem to despise each other until their friends come up with the time-honoured trick of informing— by clandestine whisper— each of them that the other is secretly in love with him/her. What human heart can resist the idea that someone is madly, tragically in love with moi? There’s no greater proof of the wisdom and sensitivity residing in another soul.
Thus Benedick falls for the ruse, being constitutionally unable to resist any woman who finds him irresistible. For her part, prickly Beatrice is softened to cactus-pear jelly by the news that he adores her. No matter how moldy is the set-up, we are caught in a web of delight with the lovers.
For those of us who also exist in the now, Director Amanda Kellock has enlisted her husband, Dean Patrick Fleming, to play Don John as well as the character of Verges (straight man to the funny guy). Fleming is no stranger to the stage; he was the director of Geordie Productions until recently.
The other actors come from near and far— as close as Concordia University in the case of Tiernan Cornford who makes her Repercussion debut as Hero. While Cornford may not have had complete confidence in the power of her lines to mesmerize, she was a drama-queen hit for the climactic scene after she’d been accused by Claudio of faithlessness.
As for the rest of the playbill: Dakota Jamal Wellman plays Claudio. His friend Benedick is played by Quincy Armorer. Holly Gauthier-Frankel is a fine, fierce Beatrice. Don Pedro is Matthew Kabwe in real life— a prince of a fellow.
Dogberry is played by one of Montreal’s veteran actors, Chip Chuipka, who does double duty as the servant Balthazar. Hero’s uncle, Leonato, is female in this production, as depicted by Susan Glover. Anurag Choudhury, a native of Oman now living in Montreal, plays Borachio (Don John’s co-conspirator) as well as the Friar who helps to clear Hero’s name. Ursula is played by Cara Krisman, currently in her last year at the National Theatre School of Canada.
Margaret, Hero’s serving woman, is played by the multi-talented Sarah Segal-Lazar, who gives us a moment of musical delight in a duet with Balthazar. Segal-Lazar is also known as a comedienne, playwright and composer.
Behind the scenes (set, costumes, lighting, sound) are the accomplished team of Sabrina Miller, Sophie El-Assaad, Jacynthe Lalonde, Troy Slocum, Samantha Bitonti and Danielle Laurin. The sound track deserves special mention. It was sensual, playful, and frequently had the audience tapping along whilst the cast shimmied and gyrated. Nice blend of Elizabethan and cool jazz!
Several other benefits accrued off-stage. First is the work of Plank Design to create an application that gives a French translation of Shakespeare that will run on a smart phone [theatre.plank.co].
Secondly, there are two-hour workshops for young people eight years and older to introduce Shakespeare to newbies. For more information, click here: http://geordie.ca/gtsworkshops.
In addition, there will be a discussion group held at McGill University on Aug. 1, prior to that evening’s performance. Shakespeare lovers, heed the call!
We applaud these efforts to make Shakespeare more accessible to modern-day attendees. But ultimately, Shakespeare is his own best agent. As we watched the audience settle in during this night’s performance, we noticed the demographics— young people who had coasted up on bicycles; couples sharing a glass of wine and a blanket; families with a toddler or two (or a dog) within arm’s length. Grey heads were there, but not in the majority.
These were people who had probably not studied The Bard. Not all of the humour and puns were appreciated— there were no chortles at Dogberry’s malapropisms (threatening criminals with ‘salvation’ instead of ‘damnation’ for instance; Shakespeare is famous for blue-collar characters who confuse multisyllabic words). But on a summer’s night, the audience was primarily tuned in to the dramatic arc.
The rain held off until the last scene. The umbrellas came out but nobody moved. Mosquitos settled on bare shoulders and were shrugged off unthinkingly. We were watching Claudio and Hero rediscover their passion for each other, and Beatrice and Benedick agreeing to harness their wit in the pursuit of love, not war.
Hey, Nonny, Nonny. What else could you ask of a summer evening but a little bit more about nothing?