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Shakespeare and the Fake Canadian

Date: Aug 13, 2013

"I'm playing with the idea of translation in a really subjective way," says Jessica Almasy. She's discussing  Le BalcÒn (The Balcony), her new work that's running at JACK in Clinton Hill through Aug 16. The show, which Almasy wrote and devised with JP Faienza, Teri Madonna and David Neal Levin, is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's <i>Romeo and Juliet</i>.

"It's a deconstruction, really" Almasy says. For one thing, the setting is not fair Verona, but a contemporary White Castle in Northern Ontario. And instead of a full cast of characters, there are just three: two teens, played by Faienza and Madonna, and a White Castle fry chef, played by Levin.

"Actually, it's more of a liposuction," Almasy says. "We took the corpse of <i>Romeo and Juliet</i> and sucked out all the fatty parts and put it into our Frankenstein of a play."

Just what are the fatty bits of Shakespeare? For Almasy and company, the love story is secondary. "We knew that would just show up, but we were struck by Juliet's dad and what a jerk he is and how he speaks to her," she says. Another point of interest was the death of Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, and the idea of murder. "If you peel away the other characters and plot in Romeo and Juliet, there's this phenomenon of young people living in a world of violence and trying to organize themselves personally, when politically or geographically there's a lot of tumult or aggression."

That's a lot of fat to chew on. But Almasy and her collaborators decided to add yet another element to Le BalcÒn (The Balcony). They are not only translating the world of Shakespeare, but also translating the writings of a fictional Canadian playwright, ConocoPhillips. "This is her play, and we are translating it from the Canadian," Almasy says with a grin. To that end, Almasy describes the play's language as awkward, "you keep getting elbowed in the ear by it."

A case in point:

Julian is closing up at the White Castle

JULIAN: can I take you home
J: mm
JULIAN: will your dad be pissed
J: to strike him dead I hold it not a sin
JULIAN: you are insane
J: no I'm not. you wouldn't kill for me?
JULIAN: we just met - you
J: I wanna - you know who's crazy
J: you know who is?
J: that manager guy


For Almasy, the figure of ConocoPhillips is an integral part of how her play makes sense. "It organizes the way the play is in translation. We need to have an original, obscure source that we don't understand. That event, that story is the DNA of the play."

Almasy also describes the play as a three layer cake, with ConocoPhillips as one layer, the actual Shakespeare from which ConocoPhillips borrowed her ideas the second, and the fact that Almasy wrote the play and devised it with the actors the third. "The simple story," Almasy says, summing it up, "is that a young boy works at a White Castle. And one day a girl shows up in the parking lot. They are smart and lingering and wandering, and they meet in a suburb and go on a journey."

Eliza Bent is a writer and performer based in Brooklyn