A new twist of love
Since the first known performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in 1597, the classic love story has been performed around the world, translated into dozens of languages and adapted into countless ballads, operas, TV and film productions and adaptations, the best known of which is 1961’s West Side Story.
For the 30th anniversary of Repercussion Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park, the Montreal-based company has taken up the challenge of putting a new twist on the story of the star-crossed lovers. In Romeo & Juliet : Love is Love presented Baie-D’Urfé and Beaconsfield, a band of travelling actors is tasked to perform Shakespeare’s famous play repeatedly until society finally learns that hate not only destroys the subjects of its loathing but also the cherished..
The play’s subtitle echoes a slogan used by the pro-same sex marriage movement in Canada and the United States. Romeo and Juliet themselves are both played by female actors.
"I knew I wanted to do Romeo and Juliet and not do it in a traditional heteronormative way," says Repercussion Theatre artistic director Amanda Kellock, in a brief interview between two halves of an all-day rehearsal. "That kind of inspired me to do a gender-blind casting call and look at the play in a new way."
POINT OF VIEW
"The way the world continues to change informs how we see these plays," says Kellock, a veteran actress who became director of the theatre company in 2015.
"When we did Julius Caesar [in 2016] for example, it was impossible not to think about what was going on with the US election at that time. We didn’t adapt everything as if it was happening there, but it made us hear the play differently. Seeing Romeo and Juliet through a gender-blind, queer lens is making us hear the play differently."
The play’s approach presents and intriguing mirror image of the Elizabethan practice of having men play female parts. "Any play is just a blueprint for a production," says Kellock. "I think [Shakespeare] would get a kick out of our production. In Shakespeare’s time...Juliet would be a boy dressed as a girl and the audience would have been aware ; there would have been a really fun titillating aspect to two young men kissing, although one of them was dressed like a girl. Our interpretation is just another incarnation of this playing with identity."
The play itself is about two people who fall in love when they’re not supposed to and the fact that society has no room for their love. "I think we still have instances in society where people aren’t allowed to love who they love, and love deserves to have space. That’s the most important thing to take away from this play," Kellock says.
For the company’s 30th anniversary, they are taking Romeo & Juliet : Love is Love on a 30-stop tour around the region, including a date in Knowlton, in the Eastern Townships, and three stops in southeastern Ontario.
French subtitles will be available, for the third consecutive year, through a smartphone app.
The outdoor productions are held rain or shine, cancelled only in case of heavy rain or thunderstorms. Interactive workshops for kids and teens will precede some performances.
July 5, 7 p.m., Fritz Farm
(20 477 Lakeshore Dr., Baie-D’Urfé).
August 3, 4 p.m., Centennial Park (288 Beaconsfield Bd., Beaconsfield).