By the end of Juliet, A Revenge Comedy, I was completely into it.
In the script, which was written by Ryan Gladstone and Pippa Mackie, Juliet from Romeo and Juliet finds herself in a kind of Shakespearean Groundhog Day: she keeps falling in love, losing her virginity, and killing herself. But, in a clever convention that I won’t give away, she figures out how to break the spell and starts to understand that she might be able to write her own narrative.
On her adventure, which takes her into the worlds of several plays, she meets Lady Macbeth, Ophelia, and Cleopatra, as well Miranda from The Tempest — all of whom are caught in their own loops.
The idea of female characters trying to escape the stories that have been imposed up them is of course, feminist. And Shakespeare himself appears in A Revenge Comedy as the villain who’s trying to maintain control of the discourse. As a fan who loves the best of Shakespeare’s work, while understanding the problems with its cultural dominance, I was worried at first that this show might be thoughtlessly dismissive of its strengths. But, as I see things, A Revenge Comedy is gunning more for the patriarchy than for the playwright. A Revenge Comedy never examines the relative merits of Shakespeare’s female characters, with any depth, for instance, and it never addresses the historical context in which they were written. Within its feminist framing, this script is mostly into having a very, very good time with absurdity.
That’s not to say that some of the jokes aren’t pointed. Many of the absurdities arise from the texts. Ophelia complains that Hamlet gets all the best lines for instance. Rebelling against her proposed marriage to Paris, Juliet exclaims, “I’m thirteen!”, and, as the scales start to fall from her eyes about her much-vaunted love for Romeo, it dawns on her that, when she kills herself, she’s only known the guy for two days.
But there’s a whole lot in this show that’s hilarious simply because it’s so audacious and unexpected. I’ll give you one example, my favourite. I’m not worried that giving it away will spoil anything because, for me at least, it never gets old: when the Nurse enters Juliet’s chamber after she’s had sex with Romeo, she stops and says, “Smells funny in here. Like warm cantaloupe and the inside of an old glove.”
Another random bit: a witch from Macbeth explains that one of the other witches isn’t there because she caught Covid: “They like to do their own research.”
Lili Beaudoin’s Juliet is slyly engaging, innocent at first, but increasingly curious. And, when Juliet is about to deliver one last kiss to the dead Romeo’s lips, she makes it hilariously pervy: “Haply some poison yet doth hang on them.”
Playing Shakespeare in various guises, Ryan Gladstone does a great job of working throwaway rhythms: in his hands, the character feels like he’s just making shit up — and tripping over himself in the process.
And Carly Pokoradi, who’s playing all the female characters except Juliet, delivers big, bold, easily distinguishable characterizations: her Miranda is gormless, her Ophelia a flower child, her Lady M a thug. The broadness of these portraits backed me up a bit at first. But they’re appropriate for the material and I settled into them.
By the end of Juliet: A Revenge Comedy, I was fully pulling for its band of rebels.
JULIET: A REVENGE COMEDY by Ryan Gladstone and Pippa Mackie. Directed by Ryan Gladstone. On Friday, February 9. A Monster Theatre production running at the Cultch’s Historic Theatre until February 18. Tickets
(The photo of Lili Beaudoin and Carly Pokoradi is by Peyton Mott.)
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