Tuesday, 8 July 2008

What Summer Evenings Should Be

We are continuing in our quest to get younger daughter out of the house. This backfired a bit when the Resident Fan Boy tried to extend the campaign to elder daughter and asked her if she had even been outside all day. Elder daughter's answer was devastatingly acidic in the way only a sixteen-year-old can muster: "I'm in Summer School, Dad...."

Anyway, last evening we decided to try out the A Company of Fools' production of The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. A Company of Fools have been active in Ottawa for the past 18 years, and for the past half dozen summers, have presented "Torchlight Shakespeare" in parks in Ottawa. They'll be doing "R&J" in our local park at the end of the month, but younger daughter and I will be in Victoria by then, so after dinner, we hoisted our one lawn chair, a "picnic duvet" long packed in a Rubbermaid container in the basement, plus a bagful of younger daughter's favourite stuffed companions, and headed for Strathcona Park which is a long leafy rectangle along the west shore of the Rideau River below the Russian Embassy on Charlotte Street.

It was actually a perfect evening for it. The day had been hot, but not humid, and stepping off the bus into the golden evening was a taking-one's-place-next-to-a-lovely-fireside kind of warm. There was a tiny stage set up in the centre of the park with a small forest of lawn chairs and picnic blankets in front. The faces were mostly white, but the age range was impressive; the productions are promoted at ACoF's website as being aimed to be accessible to all ages.

And it was! Younger daughter was enthralled, from the opening moments as the actors perspired in the sun shining directly in their faces (we'd glimpsed the vigorous warm-up regimen taking place behind the tents) to the closing moments as an evening breeze picked up, showering the audience with leaves and blowing the flames in the blazing buckets serving as footlights. This version took about ninety minutes and with five actors playing all the parts (Juliet doubled as Tybalt!), the emphasis was heavily on comedy. Mercutio's death was still affecting, as was those of Romeo and Juliet, although these felt a little odd amidst all the hilarity.

I particularly enjoyed Jesse Buck,who played the Storyteller/Friar Laurence/Nurse and as such often changed roles mid-scene, by slipping a cap on or pulling his hood up. It helped that he appeared to be a dead ringer for Hugh Laurie. Juliet (Emmanuelle Zeesman) looked exactly like our star actress in high school and had many of her mannerisms, so it was a pleasant blast-to-the-past for me. Younger daughter loved the balcony scene, with Romeo calling to Juliet ankle-deep in audience. In addition, a tiny dog made the rounds and eventually curled up on our blanket behind the Resident Fan Boy's back, to younger daughter's shuddering delight.

This is what summer evenings should be: balmy, beautiful, with the distant cries of birds and frisbee-players, a breeze rustling the lush leaves overhead, and the laughter of an audience enjoying words written over four hundred years ago.

Then we went home and my family crowded around the TV to watch the latest two Marias get turfed in the coliseum entertainment known as How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria. I huddled at the computer and blotted it out, thinking of Shakespeare. Sigh.

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

I'm happy that your family enjoyed the production. In my last city (prior to Germany), there were Shakespeare afternoons in the open park. I absolutely loved it, and I completely agree this is what the best summers are about! :-)