Monday, February 26, 2024

Vancouver theatre review: Juliet: A Revenge Comedy wonders what if?

In Monster Theatre’s Juliet: A Revenge Comedy, Shakespeare’s dead women turn the tables on their maker

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Juliet: A Revenge Comedy

When: To Feb. 23
Where: The Cultch Historic Theatre
Tickets & Info: From $29 at www.thecultch.com

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To be or not to be, that is the question. Not for Hamlet, but for Juliet in Monster Theatre’s sometimes hilarious sort-of-feminist spoof of Shakespearean tragedy at The Cultch.

What if Juliet doesn’t kill herself at the end of her play but survives to intervene in the deaths of other suicidal Shakespearean heroines: Lady Macbeth, Ophelia, Cleopatra. And how does The Tempest’s Miranda, marooned on an island with a lot of men, maintain her virginity but satisfy her intense horniness — that, too, is the question.

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Playwrights Pippa Mackie and Ryan Gladstone answer many other questions you probably never thought to ask in this hit comedy that has played to sold-out houses since its 2019 premiere. Its Fringe festival origins remain evident in the small cast, bare stage and single gag stretched out to 70 minutes. But its three terrific actors keep lighting up the laugh-per-minute meter.

Gladstone, who also directs, plays a smug Shakespeare intent on making his female characters follow the script. Diminutive Lili Beaudoin slyly performs skeptical Juliet, wondering what is making her kill herself when she’s just 13 and has known Romeo for only two days. Carly Pokoradi, in a tour de force comic performance marked by lightning-quick character shifts, takes on 20 other roles — sometimes, frantically, four at a time.

The condensed replays of Romeo and Juliet that open the show make up the tightest, funniest segments. The climax, so to speak, occurs in the wedding night scene where Juliet and Pokoradi’s Romeo have wild sex behind a sheet, followed quickly by Pokoradi’s Lady Capulet wandering into Juliet’s bedroom wondering what seems different. Then Pokoradi’s Friar Laurence concocts his plan to fake Juliet’s death. “What can possibly go wrong?” he asks.

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After Juliet somehow resists the urge to off herself in the graveyard, she bumps into Lady Macbeth (suspend your disbelief, folks), compulsively washing her hands, and recruits her to help keep whacked out Ophelia from drowning herself. Why is Ophelia acting crazy, they keep asking, when Hamlet is the one feigning madness? Then off they go (“We should hurry,” says Ophelia, “before Hamlet makes my death all about him”) to find Cleopatra, who wants nothing more than to let her pet serpents sink their poisonous fangs into her breasts.

Finally, they are joined by horny Miranda, who wants to get it on with Cleopatra. Young Juliet has her first period (“Out damned spot,” says Lady Macbeth) and somehow finds a copy of Shakespeare’s collected plays, which gives the women some power over their narrative destinies. Meanwhile, Shakespeare keeps popping up in disguise in the balcony, trying to convince them to follow his scripts and go back to their respective plays.

When Shakespeare appears as a mansplaining Prospero, the women have had enough. Like a team of Marvel Avengers, they pursue him in an extended chase scene that runs partly through the audience. Despite the laughs, this stretch of the play devolves into near-slapstick sound and fury.

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Good-natured revisionist theatre that showcases fine comic acting and asks some pertinent questions about Shakespeare’s construction of his lead women, Juliet: A Revenge Comedy has already sold out its originally announced Cultch run and been extended to Feb. 23.

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