Ask any school kid what they think about Shakespeare and you are likely to get an answer that cannot be printed on a family-oriented online service. Any school kid that is who has not seen Shakespeare in Action.
Shakespeare in Action is a non-profit theatre group that has been bringing Shakespeare down to earth in Toronto-area schools for the last ten years. This year they decided to go public, and we all should be glad they did.
The first offering just opened at the Studio Theatre at the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts. This modern 120 or so seat theatre with it's balconies is an ideal setting for a modern day Romeo and Juliet.
Artistic Director Michael Kelly has chosen to add another wrinkle into the star-crossed lovers lives. Romeo and family are black, Juliet's are white. While this is never referred to in the script (obviously), it does give the piece a modern context.
The Capulet 'gang' and the Montague 'gang' could be seen on any street in any major city. While the language still may take a little getting used to, it is worth the effort, and the message Shakespeare gave in the 16th century is just as relevant today, if not more so! One interesting feature of the evening is the 'Hands on' workshop prior to the curtain. Shakespeare in Action promotes a philosophy to break the barriers between the actor and the audience with an innovative workshop with members of the cast, and the audience. The workshop commences around 7 PM.
Michael Kelly is the founder and Artistic Director of Shakespeare in Action. He has been involved in classic theatre since 1982. He holds an M.F.A. from York, and teaches classes at York, George Brown College and Equity Showcase in Toronto. He keeps the momentum going for the most part, although after of Tybalt and Mercutio there is a bit of a lag in the pacing. I especially liked his use of the balconies in the theatre. In fact, thanks to his blocking, the audience feels as though it is in the middle of the action. A word caution however. If it is established that the doors/exits etc. are in certain place, it doesn't work to have the players running into a room from all over, as with the death-bed scene in Juliet's bedroom, and also the scene in the crypt. In comparison with the overall production, this is a minor 'suggestion'.
Deborah Hay, who recently played Sally Jane Jones in Lovin', Lyin' and Leavin' with Huron Country Playhouse is a graduate of York's acting programme, and a singer/songwriter to boot. She is excellent in the role of Juliet. What breath control!
David Collins is a founding member of SIA, and his talent for Shakespeare certainly shines through in his performance as Romeo.
Of special note is Anna MacKay-Smith who plays the nurse. Her portrayal is flawless. (Go see the show and you will know what I mean.) Also the fight scenes are very well choreographed by Simon Fon, and well executed.
The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet, to Nov. 23. Thurs. - Sat. Call (416) 872-2222 for tickets. For information about SIA call 416 535-6939
-- By Andrea Hodges
Theatre News Canada