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A bilingual 'Romeo and Juliette'

Director, writer, actor Robert Lepage is one of Canada's most renowned figures in performing arts. Highlights from his astonishing oeuvre include epic plays, The Dragon's Trilogy and Needles and Opium, award-winning films, Le Confessional and Far Side of the Moon, and even rock shows. This Quebec native continues to push artistic boundaries, earning his reputation as this country's creative genius.

It starts with a phone call and results in a first for Canada. Robert Lepage's Le Théâtre Repère and Saskatoon's Gordon McCall's Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan are mounting a completely bilingual version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. McCall directs the Romeo/Montague passages in English while Lepage is responsible for the Juliette/Capulet scenes in French. Lepage and McCall talk to CBC's Peter Gzowski about the challenges of mounting a bilingual Shakespeare from opposite sides of the country. 
. While Lepage and McCall remained true to Shakespeare's text, the directors ignored the aesthetics of the play. The directors set their Romeo and Juliette on a strip of the Trans-Canada highway that divided the francophone Capulets and the anglophone Montagues. The actors wore jeans and cowboy boots and drove pickup trucks.

. The production garnered mixed reviews. Robert Crew of the Toronto Star wrote that the staging, set and costumes were "all grotesquely at odds with the text. Romeo says 'But soft, what light through yonder window breaks' just as Juliette is climbing out of her green '52 pickup." - Toronto Star, June 13, 1990

. Lepage has a reputation for continuously developing and refining his productions. His unorthodox approach to theatre has been praised for creating works of sprawling, epic genius and at the same time criticized for being unfocused, messy and full of empty tricks.
. Lepage once said that he mistrusts artists who know what they have to say because he doesn't know who he is or what he wants to say.

. Lepage's improvisational process produced some catastrophes including the infamous 1994 Edinburgh premiere of The Seven Streams of the River Ota, which Lepage admitted was very much a work in progress on opening night. Critic Charles Spencer described that first version as "incoherent and self indulgent."
. Lepage was the artistic director of the Ottawa National Arts Centre's French Theatre, one of Canada's most prestigious posts in theatre. Lepage held the position from 1989 to 1993.

. Lepage's multilingual one-man plays include:
1986: Vinci (based on the life of Leonardo da Vinci and a photographer who travels to Europe)
1991: Needles and Opium (show about the lives of Miles Davis, Jean Cocteau and Lepage)
1996: Elsinore (reworking of Shakespeare's Hamlet)
. Lepage is fluent in French, English, Italian and German and has studied Russian and Japanese.
Medium: Radio
Program: Morningside
Broadcast Date: July 6, 1989
Guest(s): Robert Lepage, Gordon McCall
Host: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 12:42

Last updated: February 16, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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