I came across Shakespeare in the Ruff in the summer of 2012. I had just moved to the Danforth neighbourhood, and while I was out exploring one day, I saw the poster for their production of Two Gents, their re-telling of Two Gentlemen of Verona. I had seen Two Gentlemen of Verona at Stratford a few years previous, so I was familiar with the story, but not with the company or the space. I’d walked through Withrow Park before, but couldn’t visualise where the show would happen. But I was intrigued, and brought a friend with me to see the show.
Unlike seeing a larger, more established Shakespeare in the Park model (like Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in High Park or Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach), this was a much smaller, more contained production, that actually used the park as it was. There was no stage – just a playing space between two trees, and the whole park served as the backdrop. The script was tight, the actors were fantastic, and the concept of the show was brilliant.
I had to introduce myself.
I was lucky enough to have two of the Ruffians come into my classroom to do some work with my grade 11 class last year. They were wonderful leaders, and I was thrilled to have them there, not only as workshop leaders, but as young professionals who were starting their own company.
Unfortunately, due to last year’s Education conflict with the provincial government in Ontario, my attentions turned elsewhere for the year.
I was very happy, though, to see that they were returning for a second season with a very different show – Richard III.
I wasn’t disappointed.
The show was, again, fantastic (and it didn’t hurt that I knew a couple of the cast). I thought their modern take on Richard was clever, and again, I loved their use of the park as an environment for the play. Alex McCooeye, who played Richard, made for an interesting Duke of Gloucester – at times just dripping with evil, some other times ridiculous in his delivery. But you couldn’t take your eyes off of him.
Diane D’Aquila adapted, directed and played in this show, and she was, as always, delightful. I always enjoy seeing her on stage. I have a soft spot for Marc Bondy and Jesse Griffiths – Marc and I went to University together and I have always loved watching him act, and I had the privilege of working with Jesse on Hamlet a few years back. Both of them are excellent, solid players, and it made the performance just that much more special for me. Finally, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, one of the company’s founding members (and Artistic Director) was absolutely stunning at the end as Richmond – playing D’Aquila’s wonderful staging of the final scenes just made his performance the more powerful.
This, in my opinion, is Shakespeare at its best – small venue, small crowd, tight cast, great script. THIS is what it takes to make Shakespeare “accessible.” I look forward to supporting this company in the years to come.