When you produce plays in natural surroundings, nature is inevitably going to demand a role in the show.
So it is with the Shakespeare in the Ruins production of Romeo and Juliet, which has its official opening June 1 at the St. Norbert Trappist Monastery, but has already racked up performances for high school students.
Winnipeg actress Heather Russell takes her first major Shakespearean role as Juliet, the doomed teen lover of the hot-blooded Romeo (Kristian Jordan) of the Montagues, the rival clan to Juliet’s family Capulet.
Russell has already seen first-hand how unpredictable elements, such as the weather, can augment the drama — particularly the tragic finale.
"Yesterday in the final scene, it started to rain a little bit and it felt perfect," Russell says, allowing that some natural episodes are... less appropriate.
"We had a prop set in a tree and a squirrel ended up grabbing it," she laughs.
"So our production manager had to climb the tree after it.
"There’s something different every single day."
What remains constant, of course, is the play itself — although this production, directed by Heidi Malazdrewich, is performed with contemporary trappings.
For Russell, the character of Juliet is timeless in her spirit of rebellion.
"The thing about Juliet is she knows what she wants and she goes for it, defying all odds, despite all the obstacles in her way," Russell says.
"That’s a wonderful part of the story."
The contemporary twist does mean some changes from the way the play is usually mounted.
"In this version, we fight with knives," says Jordan, whose Romeo is obliged to fight Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, in a pivotal scene. "It’s somewhat trickier than swords in terms of the distance."
Jordan says the play still manages to feel fresh because its pace is decidedly modern.
"The whole play takes place in five days and only in that five days," he says, adding he must meet the daughter of his family’s enemies, fall in love instantly, profess his love, get married, be torn apart and die.
"And it all happens so incredibly quickly. That’s where this contemporary feeling comes from, these rushed decisions that they have to make."
All in all, the characters have no time to step back and think about their actions, he says.
"We live in a fast-paced world and I think Romeo and Juliet do as well."
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