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Acclaimed Russian 'man of the theatre' Alexander Marine directs students

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet produced for an unromantic era

by Sylvain-Jacques

When the curtain rises on Romeo and Juliet tonight, the latest production from Concordia's Department of Theatre, director Alexandre Marine will be realizing a longtime wish of producing the Bard's most romantic play.

"Every director dreams about directing Romeo and Juliet," he said in an interview at his NDG apartment. "It's one of the greatest plays of all time."

It's also one of the greatest stories of young love tragically forbidden by two feuding families -- and certainly one of William Shakespeare's most famous plays -- but Marine said he isn't concerned about taking on a piece of such legendary status.

"Romeo and Juliet could be done 1,000 times again and each time it would be different," he said. "It's an immortal piece, with a great script, that every generation can identify with."

Marine is also eager to put his stamp on the work. A vastly experienced Russian actor and director, he was a protégé of Olga Tabakov, head of the famous Moscow Theatre School, where he also taught. At only 36, four years ago, he won Russia's Distinguished Artist Honour for lifetime achievement. He has taught since 1986 at Harvard's Institute for Advanced Theatre Training.

Marine immigrated to Canada six years ago, essentially starting his career again from scratch. He directed a successful student production at McGill University of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, and co-directed two productions, both of Shakespeare plays, at the Centaur Theatre, Antony and Cleopatra, and a prize-winning production of The Winter's Tale.

Working with student actors, Marine admits, is often more enjoyable than directing professional ones. "Students are better to work with since they haven't had time to develop bad habits on stage," he said, noting the average student's age is appropriately close to that of Romeo and Juliet. "The play belongs to students, since it's really about themselves, and they're bold enough to be unafraid of working with such a great script."

While Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona in 1591, Marine is staging this production in the present era with modern dialogue. The principal characters, however, will be set apart from the rest of cast by slowly reverting back to the Renaissance period through their speech and costumes as they approach their ill-fated death. Marine said he chose this approach because "the meaning of love today is not the same as it was in Shakespeare's time."

Modern times have stripped love of much of its significance and equated it with sex. "Love is just words now," he continued with a sigh. "Going back to the Renaissance
will allow the characters to go deeper into a time when love was the most valued of all things. You couldn't reveal feelings so easily and openly today as during Romeo and Juliet's time."

That perfect, open, romantic love is the principal reason why Romeo and Juliet continues to have universal appeal. It's why the play continues to cast a spell over audiences, no matter what age they are, no matter which period it's staged in, Marine said. "Everyone can recognize a little bit of themselves in this play."

Romeo and Juliet is playing at the D.B. Clarke Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., April 15, 16, 17, 18, 23 and 24 at 8 p.m.. A matinée will be performed at 2 p.m. April 25. Tickets are $2 for students, $6 for alumni and $10 general admission. For more information, call 848-4742.

Copyright 1999 Concordia's Thursday Report.