Ines de Castro by John Clifford, directed by Diana Kolpak, with Patrick Conner, Ron Kennell, Elyssa Livergant, Cheryl McNamara, Robert Tsonos and Dinah Watts. Presented by Whetstone Productions at Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Previews Sunday (June 10), opens Tuesday (June 12) and runs to June 30, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $12-$18, Sunday pwyc. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
ron kennell had no idea a high-school trip he took to Portugal 16 years ago would come back to haunt him.
Among the cliffs, courtyards and countless Fatimas he visited was a monastery housing the tombs of Pedro and Ines, Portugal's own Romeo and Juliet.
Now he's playing Pedro in a stage version of the epic love story.
"When I got the role, I took out my photographs," says Kennell in between rehearsals for Ines De Castro, John Clifford's modern retelling of the 14th-century romance saga, which is less well known in North America than it is in Europe.
Kennell says the role of Pedro is very challenging, with a bit of Hamlet and a touch of Romeo in the mix. The play itself, he says, is "very meaty, very long on suffering, pain and politics."
To the traditional story of the star-crossed lovers -- their secret marriage, Ines's murder and Pedro's cold-blooded revenge when he becomes king -- Clifford has added modern flourishes.
There's a chorus who comment on the action. Very classical. But the chorus members -- most played by actors in the main story -- also allude to 20th-century references. Very postmodern.
"There are indirect parallels drawn between the atrocities of the second world war -- ovens, and victims made to dig their own graves -- and the atrocities of the war between Spain and Portugal," Kennell points out.
"There's a scene in which Ines talks about her children, who've been taken away from her, and a chorus member walks on and talks about not understanding why her own daughter paints her toenails."
Tone, then, is key. Nowhere is this more evident than in a scene where a henchman pours boiling pitch into all a man's orifices, leaving his mouth till last so his screams can be heard.
"That scene is actually quite funny," laughs Kennell. "A chorus member describes the scene. He tells the audience how the henchman was able to do it. Apparently, he had to hoist the victim's legs over his head."
Kennell is no stranger to historical roles. In Aurash he played a mythical Iranian archer from centuries ago, and in Monsieur D'Eon Is A Woman he earned a Dora nomination as an androgynous courtier in 18th-century France.
This fall he's playing a melancholic inventor wannabe in Steve Martin's Picasso At The Lapin Agile.
"I don't exactly get cast in boy-next-door roles," he sighs.
"But, then, maybe that's a good thing."