Fast, dark and thrilling may not be the first words that come to mind when describing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but that is what local gay actor Chris Cook says audiences will get in The Verona Project, a new adaptation of this classic love-story opening at the Pacific Theatre beginning June 29.
“This modern-day adaptation distils Shakespeare’s play to its essence,” started Cook (pictured right), who plays Friar Lawrence in this adaptation from the show’s director Evan Frayne.
For Frayne arriving at the decision to adapt Romeo and Juliet came from a desire to challenge himself and to do something that he says scared him. Tinkering with the original script, he started his adaptation by cutting almost half the play and then adding back a couple of scenes to give the actors an idea of where he was headed. He then sought their input.
“I wanted the actors to feel a part of that process because I believe that they will in turn feel a sense of ownership over the work in a different way than if I had just done it all myself,” Frayne explained. “I asked for ideas and let them know that I wanted the play to be what I really thought it was- a tragedy of community, a grounded human story – I really wanted all of the characters to have a journey.”
Wanting to flesh out some of the other characters in the story Frayne added a few monologues, including for Cook’s Friar Lawrence, each reflecting on what has just happened or what will happen.
“My hope is that we get both the moment to moment world of the play, as well as this new world which is just slightly outside of it, in which we see more of the life of these other members of the Verona community,” continued Frayne. “There aren’t a lot of these moments, but I think there are just enough that the audience will, perhaps, see the story in a bit of a different light”.
Cook helped put it a little more succinctly: “we are respecting Shakespeare’s story, while giving it a flavour that is all our own.”
For Cook and the rest of the team behind The Verona Project, there is no question that adding that “flavour” is fraught with risk. Despite the risk, there is a belief that in presenting something beyond a traditional staging of Romeo and Juliet will contribute to an audiences understanding of it and give it more meaning.
“That’s not an easy task,” Cook acknowledged, “but if you can do it, and we think we are, it makes for one great night of theatre.”
According to Cook it also helps that the story of Romeo and Juliet still resonates centuries after being written.
“In adapting the play, we want to make it that much more accessible to our audience, and offer up a few surprises, capturing their hearts even more,” said Cook. “This isn’t a bunch of men in tights with cod-pieces, and women in long, heavy gowns – these are people you know. Your hipster friends, the family that could very well be from Point Grey, the gang you just heard about on the news. We want to make sure we are hitting close to home”.
The Verona Project
29 June – 2 July 2011
Set in the present day, in a city much like Vancouver, the story of Romeo and Juliet is played out with an eye towards the joys, pains and mistakes of youth. The Verona Project looks to ask many questions which are relevant to today’s audiences: How do we perpetuate fear and prejudice in our kids? How have we all contributed to the violence and death of our children? Are we destined to follow in the footsteps of our mothers and fathers? Call the Pacific Theatre Box Office for tickets at 604.731.5518.