Ron Kennell loves the great outdoors, especially when he gets to perform Shakespeare al fresco.[rssbrea]
Kennell's returning to Canadian Stage's annual Dream in High Park, where he played Caliban last year in The Tempest. This time around, the actor exchanges Caliban's claws and fins for a dress: he's performing the nurse in Romeo and Juliet.
"It's a really different take on the material," he explains during a rehearsal break. "Director Vikki Anderson's concept is that a group of travelling players has been stranded in the railway station at Verona, where Shakespeare's play is set.
"They're irritable, forced on their day off to be with people they've been confined with for too long. But the station master, who has a touch of magic in her, suggests that they tell the story of the young couple and the cost of love and hate, in the very town where the action takes place.
"Initially, the troupe doesn't believe in the material, but the redemptive nature of the play wins them over."
Coincidentally, in a 1997 Dream production of R&J, Kennell understudied the nurse's role when Wenna Shaw performed it.
"I never had a chance to go on," he laughs at the memory. "Wenna said that if I did she'd never be able to get the part back from me."
Kennell doesn't see it as doing drag, but as playing an actor who takes on an unaccustomed role.
"There are some funny moments when my character enjoys playing a woman, but down the road he gets into the passion that's part of the role.
"The production has a nice balance of cross-gender casting, in fact, with Caroline Gillis as Friar Lawrence and Lisa Berry as Prince Escalus."
After six years at Stratford and performing in some 20 of Shakespeare's plays, Kennell still thinks the Bard's words work best in the open air.
"That's how they were meant to be heard, outdoors at the Globe," he says. "There's something about gathering in an outdoor venue and listening to a story being told, especially using Shakespeare's amazing language. It becomes a magical, transforming experience for actors and audience."