by Lynn on June 19, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Deliverance of Juliet and Her Romeo

At Unit 102, 376 Dufferin St, Toronto, Ont.

Adapted from Shakespeare by Harrison Thomas, Ashleigh Kasaboski and Anne van Leeuwen.
Directed by Harrison Thomas
Set by Chris Bretecher
Lighting by Steve Vargo
Chris Blades
Michelle Cloutier
Michelle D’Alessandro Hatt
Lauren Horejda
Peter Jarvis
Ashleigh Kasaboski
Christopher Mott
Emily Nixon
Cam Sedgwick
Mike Tanchuk
Kelly Van der Burg
Anne van Leeuwen
Scott Walker

A very ambitious project that doesn’t quite make it but the attempt is to be applauded.

The Story. One has to look for clues about what this story is really about by reading director Harrison Thomas’s program note and surfing the web for information because the actual text does not. Leroy Street Theatre and Avant Bard Productions are melding Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the 1978 Jonestown Massacre of Jim Jones and his polygamous cult.

So the Capulets are the polygamous cult. There are several Lady Capulets all married to Capulet, the leader of the cult. Their daughter Juliet is in love with another woman named Romeo from the rival Montague family. Using Shakespeare’s language from Romeo and Juliet plus any other Shakespeare play that has a word or a line that serves the purpose, the result is The Deliverance of Juliet and Her Romeo. It generally follows the same story line, although here Mercutio is also a woman. There are echoes of the Jonestown Massacre and its lead up but you would have to have read the program to know that.

The Production. Designer Chris Bretecher uses two moveable sections of a chain link fence to create the various scenes and locations. A rectangular box becomes a bench, a resting place for a dead body lying in state and various other efficient uses. The cast is large and creates the sense of the followers of the cult leader. They wear head coverings that could suggest the Middle East, thus opening up the play for further interpretation. The efficiency of the set in such a small space is impressive.

Also impressive is director Harrison Thomas’s fluid staging of the large cast. He is also adept at realizing the intimacy of scenes in which there is only Juliet and her Romeo. There is a muscularity and boldness to his direction and we always get the sense of the danger of that place where that cult is.

As Capulet, the charismatic leader of the cult, Scott Walker is strapping, dangerous and brooks no dissent. There is passion and sensuality between Ashleigh Kasaboski as Juliet and Anne van Leeuwen as Romeo, with van Leeuwen handling the text with assurance. Too often Kasaboski rushes her lines making it hard to understand what she’s saying. As Mercutio, Lauren Horejda is full of swagger and confidence.

Comment. Leroy Street Theatre and Avan Bard Productions are to be commended for such a bold challenge. I must confess that I think the connection to Romeo and Juliet and the Jonestown Massacre is tenuous at best, careful culling of Shakespeare’s words notwithstanding. And when you have to read a program note to figure out why there are references to cults and multiple wives then the project is on shaky ground. That said, I am mighty impressed that a group of young actors want to tackle Shakespeare and even more impressed that they are selling out the place to do it. Bravo.

Some practical tips worth noting for their next production, and I want to see that for sure: put the dates of the run on the program cover along with the actual name of the theatre and the address, with information on buying tickets. I’ve listed all that below, but this info is vital for the program. Again, bravo.

Produced by Leroy Street Theatre in association with Avant Bard Productions.

Opened: June 11, 2014
Closes: June 21, 2014
Cast: 13; 6 men, 7 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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