J. and I went to Toronto today, to work (we found a Starbucks and edited there for five hours or so — a normal day). But also to see CanStage’s Romeo and Juliet in High Park. I’ve decided I want to see performances this year — as many as possible. They don’t have to be Shakespearean, or by professional companies; I just want to get into the habit of thinking about performance as I read plays — to consider the different ways of staging a scene. This one was open air, and much of the play was performed as a comedy — and made good use of early modern clown figures and cross-dressing to show off the play’s humour and non-tragic elements. It was also neat to see the way that the fading daylight worked with the play to emphasise the shift from comedy to tragedy (it began at 8.00 when it was still bright out; by the time Romeo and Juliet performed the nightingale scene in 3.5, twilight had hit, aptly fitting the pair’s talk of the ambiguity of the dawn; the remaining daylight faded into darkness as Juliet’s unhappy marriage to Paris was planned, poisons were obtained, and the play developed more inevitably into tragedy).
A few quibbles with the prologue and between-act framing play: the company had a neat idea of performing it as an ad hoc performance that travelling performers put on while awaiting their trains, but didn’t develop it much (possibly due to time constraints). Generally, the text was cut seamlessly, and it was a solidly fun performance.
Juliet’s nurse proved the most interesting performance to watch, especially in the context of my work on boy actors. The company cast a man in her part and during the comic scenes of the play this gender bending casting was the source of much laughter, especially as the initially unwilling actor grumped about donning the large prosthetic breasts that signified her female role. “She” initially seemed to participate in the male clowning, and boasting about their masculinity through double entendre (as if to point out that even though playing a woman, “she” was unquestionably a man). As the play progressed, however, the nurse became increasingly sympathetic to Juliet’s predicament, including a funny but touching 2.4: the nurse teased Juliet throughout, avoiding directly answering her questions (“What says he of our marriage — what of that?” 46), only to increase Juliet’s delight at hearing the final “There stays a husband to make you a wife” (68) — a delight in which the nurse fully and genuinely reveled with her charge — indicating their shared pleasure with an enormous (and non-satiric) smile. As the nurse became more genuinely invested in Juliet’s welfare, the play drew less attention to “her” male body beneath, even doing away with the obviously false breasts.
The extent to which the male body disappeared beneath the representative female he played was impressive, though at the same time I remained aware, to some degree, that I was indeed seeing a man on stage (at the same time that I was affectively convinced “he” was a woman). I suspect that the reason boy actors are more intensely disruptive than adult male actors is that the younger actors are more easily capable of shedding signifiers of “manliness” (for example, hairlines, body shape, and the pitch of one’s voice: even clean-shaven, it looked as though the Nurse could sprout a full beard at any moment).
This is my current central thesis about the “dangerousness” of boy actors, at any rate.
Also, I’ve decided that the fight scene in 3.1 — “By my head, here comes the Capulets.” / “By my heel, I care not.” (31-32) — is just a satisfyingly good scene, and always always works in performance.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. The Norton Shakespeare: Tragedies. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton, 1997. 143-219. Print.
11 August 2010 ~ Hamilton