Review: these violent delights interrogates how we bear witness to history
By Rachel Offer
“Who gets to decide which events are commemorated, and why? Are monuments capable of bearing witness to history? What role does a monument play in its current history?”
These are the questions writer-director Cole Lewis and her Vancouver-based company, Guilty By Association, asked at the beginning of their creative process. Inspired by Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers and the aftermath of their deaths, these violent delights, now on at the Summerworks Performance Festival, certainly goes beyond the conventional in attempting to answer them.
The piece finds its roots in the final scene of Romeo and Juliet, when a monument to the lovers is proposed by Capulet and Montague to memorialize the tragic events surrounding their suicides. these violent delights deconstructs this moment by telling the story from the perspective of the Nurse, an absent voice in this scene in the source text, now exiled after being blamed for the tragedy. The core conflict is fairly simple: should the Nurse attend the unveiling of the lovers’ monument or not? But colour and stakes are added to this ‘simple’ problem as she struggles with her place in Verona and regret over her past.
The otherworldly, dream-like quality of the staging and movement brings the audience into the Nurse’s decision, allowing us to fill in gaps where needed and think critically about what the piece means in a larger context, but it also makes the story difficult to follow at times. The disembodied recorded voices contribute to the supernatural atmosphere, but they become distracting when overlapped with performers speaking onstage and some lines are lost.
Multiple actors voice and embody the Nurse, coming in and out of a chorus masked in unnerving tall, cylindrical, smiley faces, and addressing the same chorus with much of the dialogue. This creates an eerie picture of a faceless ‘other’ that could be seen as an extension of the Nurse’s inner self or perhaps the people of Verona, who presume to tell and celebrate Juliet’s story with a gold statue and a plaque.
The commentary about women and their worth in a patriarchal society is rooted entirely in the world of Romeo and Juliet but equally resonates today. In a direct address to the audience, the Nurse questions her identity as a woman and a nurse, highlighting how her value is linked to her maternal abilities. She is speaking of Verona, of course, but is that all? The biting text and fourth wall breaking in this speech hold everyone present accountable for perpetuating these constraining gender roles.
The final scene is truly a spectacle, as the Nurse witnesses the unveiling of the statue of her beloved Juliet, praised by the townspeople, senators, Capulets, and Montagues alike. In a haunting moment, the Nurse breaks down in front of the plastic covered Juliet, who is singing “who’s laughing now?”. The Nurse’s final speech returns us to the questions of the program, specifically, ‘Are monuments capable of bearing witness to history?’. She seems to think not. But whatever the perspective of the characters on stage, it compels us as an audience to examine our own thoughts on the matter.
these violent delights succeeds in demanding an altered perspective on our view of history and who writes it–an especially relevant take-away in an era where more and more, other sides of history are finally being revealed after centuries of the narrative being controlled by a specific few in power.
these violent delights continues tonight (August 11) at 7:15pm and August 12 at 5:00pm at the Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street, Toronto ON). http://summerworks.ca/artists/these-violent-delights/
Rachel Offer is alt.theatre‘s editorial assistant. Born and raised in a small town in Ontario, she is cultivating her passion for theatre by going into her third year of the BFA – Acting program at the University of Windsor.