What if Shakespeare had written the Godfather?
Photo credit: Emily Cooper
by Keri Vermeulen
If you’re any kind of fan of the dramatic arts, Pacific Theatre presents a show this month you won’t want to miss. The production marries two genres and two eras – that of classic Shakespearean drama and American film classic. Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather, which runs Feb. 3 through 25, is a fast-paced, powerful retelling of the Italian American crime family saga The Godfather in the language of William Shakespeare – complete with Iambic pentametre and razor sharp wit.
And the mergers don’t stop there – the play brings together Pacific Theatre and Classic Chic Productions, a unique all-women company that sprang forth from the hearts and minds of some talented and visionary female actors in Vancouver. These women wanted to develop more creative space for female theatre artists in our city. You might be asking what an all woman production company would be doing putting on a show in which male power, drama and control practically smolders off the title – and the answer would be “Exactly.” Classic Chic creates a space for women to access the meatier roles in great scripts — roles that reflect some of the most interesting conflicts and issues of being human.
“There are such fantastic roles that are written in the classics that generally women don’t have access to,” shares one of the founding members of Classic Chic, Corina Akeson. She also stars in Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather as Sonny Corleone and crooner Johnny Fontaine, and is also the show’s Sound Designer. “The roles that are available (to women) in classic work tend to be the least desirable. There might be only three female parts, one of which is probably not more than a walk on or a side character. And the other ones are often victims or whores or whatever. But then there’s this huge variety for men of powerful characters and wonderful speeches.”
Classic Chic’s production does not change the gender of the male characters to women, rather the female actors play the roles as men, which has the potential to heighten the sense of drama (and wit) in a brand new, deeply textured way. And the gender swap is not about competition between the sexes, or even attempting to blur gender lines. “It’s not about making the roles or each other the same – it’s about humanizing them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a man’s story or a woman’s story – it’s a valid story,” explains Akeson. “This is about access and exploring and breaking down barriers. It’s not about negating one or the other. It’s about exploring the other and I guess reconciling them. “
The women play their male roles convincingly (with the added help of “Walking Like a Man” workshops) and the gender switch promises to provide added intensity into themes like destiny, betrayal, purity and falls from grace. “There’s something very powerful that happens when a woman steps into a man’s role…because women tend to be more ruled by our hearts and tend to be a little softer in performance,” reveals Akeson. “We have to ask ourselves … how would I look at this if I closed that part of my heart? As an actor, it’s a wonderful sandbox to get in and play around.”
Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather, written by David Mann, follows the characters and plot of The Godfather, but delivers the story in a fast-paced, quick transitioning and dramatic hour and 20 minutes. “I love the script because you realize when you do it, that The Godfather really is Shakespearean in its sheer ‘epicness’ – part tragedy like a Hamlet, part history play like a Henry V,” says Classic Chic Founder and Artistic Director Christina Wells Campbell.
Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather plays Feb 3 through 25, 8 pm Wednesdays to Saturdays, with 2 pm matinees all Saturdays at Pacific Theatre, 1440 W 12th Ave. Pay-what-you-can preview Feb 2 at 8pm. For tickets call 604.731.5518 or visit pacifictheatre.org.