How fortunate my mistake.
I was originally supposed to see Repercussion Theatre’s production of The Taming of the Shrew in Verdun, but had mixed-up the dates. Seeing how few dates were left, I proposed Friday August 3rd, in Cabot Square. It would be a nice way to cap off the week, and a picnic was planned for the occasion.
But wait – Cabot Square? Come again?
They can’t be serious!
My previous encounters with the summer delight that is Shakespeare in the Park had been in the broad green expanses of Westmount Park and NDG Park, places I assumed had been designed with outdoor theatre in mind. Cabot Square is run-down, the whole area is, and the park is typically filled with a wide assortment of people living on the edge doing their edgewise living. It’s far more a public square than park, as the design supports pedestrian through-traffic. There’s not much grass and you’d be wise to watch where you sit – broken beer bottles being the least of your concerns. It isn’t pretty, and I wondered whether the busy and hectic backdrop of entertainment complexes, bus stops and a hospital would, combined, have a detrimental effect on the quality of the performance?
I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I’m delighted to see just how effectively urban public theatre can quickly and rather decisively transform an otherwise unsightly part of town. Despite the background noise and the limitations of the space, Repercussion Theatre did an exemplary job entertaining well over a hundred enthusiastic spectators. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that they came mentally prepared for the site, something I found rather fascinating, and knew ahead of time to expect the unexpected and unpredictable. Good on them too, it worked quite well. Perhaps these are just the hallmarks of talented actors, but I digress.
The set itself was minimalist and easily transportable, and stationed on the slightly more spacious eastern side of the square, with the majority of the audience seated in collapsable chairs by the Cabot monument. This left a fair bit of open space undisturbed by the performance, and kept it disconnected from the busier western side (where you’ll find several more bus stops and the always boisterous Métro entrance). With the position of lights, seats, picnic tables and a couple fold-down tents, the area for the performance was clearly delineated without requiring any actual obstructions, such as fences, folding tables or security guards. In this way, it was far more inviting than it might be otherwise. That said, there are risks involved, such as having the performance disrupted by yahoos running amok in the city. But hey, c’est la vie. Excellent actors make all the difference.
I met a few friends after a long day of work, all of us well-dressed and keen to participate in a moment of public culture. We sat down stage left and enjoyed a sumptuous picnic of fine Indian cuisine from Thali and a nice Portuguese white wine whose name escapes me at the moment. Joining us was probably the best behaved racing hound I’ve ever met; didn’t make a sound the entire time and seemed to be legitimately relaxed around so many people. The show got off without a hitch and it was immediately apparent that this was a well-oiled machine, having done more than a dozen earlier performances. I recognized several actors off the bat, having somewhat come up in the milieu of Montréal’s Anglophone theatre community. And on that note, Repercussion does excellent work and I’m glad to see that despite the many difficulties experienced by this community over the years, it nonetheless keeps itself going with vibrant well-executed productions and talented actors. We’re rather fortunate in this respect.
The eruption of amplified human voices at ten past seven got the temporarily re-located public drinking enthusiasts going early, and shouts coming from the edge of the square would occasionally compete with the dialogue, but never enough to trip anyone up. Halfway through the first act one of these enthusiasts approached the stage enquiring ‘you wanna kill somebody? you… you… wanna kill some buddy, eh?’
All of a sudden an audience member appeared by the drunk’s side and seemed to be going in for a kiss. His hand was on his shoulder and he seemed to be whispering to him, and after an initial protest the intrepid spectator reached further down for his waist. He quickly silenced the drunk and got him to move away without a fuss. I would find out later the spectator was in fact just that, an average citizen watching the show who had the wherewithal and requisite gumption to prevent a greater disturbance. I was quite impressed to say the very least. Suffice it to say if you think I get a kick out of organized citizens reclaiming urban space, I’m certainly overjoyed to see the disorganized amongst us stepping up at the crucial moment to assist in prolonging the reclamation of urban space by the citizenry.
Discussing the matter after the show with our intrepid peacemaker, he remarked how much more authentic a setting Cabot Square really is for this kind of entertainment, as compared to the manicured lawns and genteel manners of other public spaces used in this year’s production. It dawned on me at the moment that Cabot Square was rather apropos. Much like back in the 16th century, the people brought their own chairs, booze, food, dogs, whole families etc. and occasionally people would rather impetuously interfere with the goings on. Midway through the second act a fistfight occurred just behind the stage – no actors were harmed during the production though despite some rather raucous slapstick between local mainstays Alex McCooeye (Petruchio) and Matt Gagnon (Grumio). Kirsten Rasmussen delivered an excellent performance as the intensely independent and free-spirited (if somewhat overly scandalized) Katharina, and her well-timed command of Shakespearian double-entendres and innuendo gave way to excited bursts of laughter from parents with unknowing children in tow. Shakespeare, when un-Disneyfied, can be immensely entertaining for all ages and has always seemed to me to reveal itself to be increasingly complex, intricate, as one’s command of the English language expands and evolves. Repercussion’s cast paid a loving tribute to the Bard in this respect, and it was very well received from all in attendance.
I definitely want more of this.