I just can’t get behind Surviving Speares. I want to, because Charlatan Remedies has done a good job of putting it together, and it’s more polished than many of the other Fringe Festival plays I’ve seen so far. But I can’t.
I’m always a fan of interactive theatre that borders on improvisation. I like that this play makes use of its surroundings and its changing audience, and it does so quite well. It’s staged in Magpie Taproom, and it’s immersive from the moment you enter the bar. The actors are wandering about in their full Shakespearean dress slinging beers and giggles.
The play is about Shakespeare hanging out in a 21st century bar with a number of his more famous characters: Hamlet, Juliet, Romeo, Lear. He’s sort of writing this play as it goes along, but he’s a participating character as well. He knows he’s invented half of the English language but he’s worried because he hasn’t written anything new in several centuries.
This psychic gap between the modern day subject matter and the 16th century characters is bridged skillfully – it seems perfectly reasonable for men to wear tights with sneakers and discuss twitter and Taylor Swift in iambic pentameter.
I think the actors do a great job, not only with their individual characterization, but also in creating an environment where all these impossibilities feel possible. There are many laughs to be had, some really astute rhyming, and some great singing.
However, at its most surface level, this play supports – even promotes – a number of assumptions about gender and sexuality that I find both noxious and boring.
The entire source of action is driven by the early proclamation that Juliet is ‘crazy.’ Does she suffer from mental illness? No – she is crazy about boys. She loves Romeo more than he loves her. She wants him to – gasp! – marry her. She has what I would consider an evolved sense of her own sexual kinks but which, unfortunately for her, the playwright seems to consider bizarre and disgusting behaviour.
There are jokes about whores having sex on the third date, about the apparent ugliness of a Juliet sans cosmetic beautification, and the abhorrence of a woman with a developed sexual appetite.
It’s the kind of attitude that disappoints me to see. Not only do I feel it contributes to the already oft-negative representation of women in popular fiction, but I find it to be a degrading oversimplification of the subversive complexities of Shakespeare’s characters – both heroes and heroines.
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- Tickets for all Mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only.
- Advance tickets are $11, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062 ext. 1), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West)
- Money-saving value packs are also available; see website for details.
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