It was a balmy spring day; the kind that calls for open footwear and leads Montrealers – eternal dreamers! – to hope an early summer is in the cards. When that lovely sort of weather is coupled with Repercussion Theatre’s Shakespeare-in-the-Park 2017 launch, though, eternal-dreamerhood seems entirely justified.
“Much Ado About a Season Launch” took place in Café Ferreira’s upstairs private room, which boasts both a glass wine cellar and a beautiful Portuguese-style mosaic by the bar. Both quickly caught my eye. Overall, the venue’s timeless retro-slash-Mediterrean feel paired quite well with our demure Shakespearian festivities. Case in point: the framed map of Douro (i.e. Northern Portugal) by the entrance, which looked remarkably like the hand-drawn sort medieval nobles might have pored over.
The pale gray backdrop of the walls made guests’ attire stand out all the more vividly. Most people went for casual chic, although a few jeans were to be seen. Many dresses, as well as one memorable blue-grey tie, featured intricate flower patterns. Some patrons of the arts went all out: one platinum blonde wore a snakeskin jacket with a chunky gold collar; a woman with a strawberry blond bob à la Wintour accessorized her little black dress with a necklace of gold-rimmed mother-of-pearl panels.
Even the silent auction prizes had their statements to make! One string-streaming pillow was the object of many chuckles, and a handy ice-breaker to boot. A Shakespeare novelty item gift basket from Paragraphe Bookstore was pursued with the same ardor the pillow was joked about, if more quietly. Amongst the other items were gift cards for a variety of Montreal experiences ranging from swing dancing at Cat’s Corner to adventures in Greek gastronomy at Le Petros, a limited edition signed print from the late Canadian artist Carl Beam, and a luxe gift set from Il Profumo – which double-tasked as the provider of stylish burgundy swag bags.
Guests slowly streamed in. Drinks were bought. Hors d’oeuvres such as tuna tartare cones and gazpacho shooters gradually got distributed. An exactly 30-picture-long projection featuring highlights from previous years’ performances played on repeat. Then, dear readers, Artistic Director Amanda Kellock came to the podium.
Ms. Kellock, head of Repercussion Theatre since 2015, began by acknowledging that there was not much mystery left surrounding the question of 2017’s chosen Shakespearian play. As it turned out, the oh-so-subtle allusion in the launch event title was not a red herring. This year, it’s Much Ado About Nothing that Montrealers will be treated to – for free! – in 29 representations at 26 different parks around the Greater Montreal area.
Post-unveiling, I had the great fortune to speak with Ms. Kellock, as well as some of the creative team and cast, to get some scoop on what awaits us this summer.
My question for Kellock was inspired by her mission statement for Repercussion, which is “ ‘…to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature…’ to reflect [Montreal]’s diversity and this age’s complexity.” What exactly of “this age’s complexity” does she intend to reflect with this year’s production? The answer, she said, is the ongoing “battle of the sexes”. Much Ado about Nothing is fairly explicit in debating whether men or women are most unfaithful and why, but Ms. Kellock intends to dig a bit deeper into gender boundaries. She especially wants to bring into focus the awkwardness of the behavioural manoeuvers men are expected to execute; the way they jarringly transition from pinnacles of masculinity in armor to fancy Romeos wooing for the first time.
Sabrina Miller, set designer, let me know that dramatic irony will remain alive and well as she cooks up plans for a set with many places where actors can “hide” in a circular set. Her design will feature regions of high contrast, the better to accentuate both characters’ highest highs and most tear-inducing lows. Interestingly, one of the challenges the set must be prepared for is the presence of ice! Ms. Miller, it seems, was told by Ms. Kellock of that one year when grass frosted unevenly and made the set a nightmare to set up.
On her side, costume designer Sophie El-Assaad intends to emphasize the post-war setting of the play. She’s going for a timeless look with a blend of different periods, but the 1950s “signature post-war” silhouette will be particularly prominent. The pale pastel colours of the characters’ outfits will emphasize the superficial nature of their connections, hinting at their secret desires for deeper relationships.
What of the cast? (Disclaimer: I speak solely of the actors I met on that eve.) Keep an eye out for new faces Tiernan Cornford and Dakota Wellman, who will play Hero and Claudio, respectively. Holly Gauthier-Frankel, fresh from her first performance with Repercussion in last year’s all-female Julius Caesar will be playing the “ballsy, contradictory” Beatrice with a deft mix of strength and vulnerability alongside Quincy Armorer, 2013’s excellent Oberon, as a Benedick with a wry sense of humour. Finally, you can expect to see veteran Shakespeare-in-the-Park actor Matthew Kabwe – this is his 6th notch on the belt – in the role of Don Pedro. Be warned – Mr. Kabwe, playing this mischievous yet stern man, plans to reel you in with the sheer strength of his air of royalty!