Entertainment Local

Corleone: Renaissance racketeers and female felons

By Brian Paterson

Nicola Lipman, Stefania Indelicato, Kaitlin Williams will perform in the Classic Chic production of Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather next month. (Emily Cooper photo)

Nicola Lipman, Stefania Indelicato, Kaitlin Williams will perform in the Classic Chic production of Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather next month. (Emily Cooper photo)

In addition to everything else, Shakespeare was a great adaptor. Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and King Lear all draw on existing writing; the histories of Rome and England gave us such plays as Julius Caesar, Richard III, and Antony and Cleopatra.

It makes you wonder: if Shakespeare were alive today, what stories might he be re-telling?

One possibility comes to Pacific Theatre next week as Classic Chic Productions -- Vancouver’s foremost all-female interpreters of classical theatre -- present Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather.

“It chronicles The Godfather: Part One, but is written in iambic pentameter, as if by Shakespeare,” I was told by Corina Akeson, cast member and Classic Chic co-founder. “The film -- namely Michael Corleone’s journey -- is a tale that lends itself very easily to Shakespeare’s words.

“[The Godfather] is an iconic story of loyalty and compromise. These are themes that run through a lot of Shakespeare. The story follows a man who is leading his life in a pure way; shirking the dark side his family has chosen. We then watch him reassess this choice and struggle with his personal values.”

Reflecting on the character of Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino in the film), one quickly sees various shades of Shakespeare: the corrupting ambition of Macbeth; the toxic family loyalty of Romeo and Juliet; the internalized conflict of Hamlet.

Iambic pentameter is not the only twist being applied to The Godfather in the upcoming production. From Don Vito to Kay Adams to Tom Hagen (Marlon Brando, Diane Keaton, and Robert Duvall in the film), each character in Corleone will be portrayed by female actors.

“There is a gender imparity that exists in theatre right now,” Akeson explained, when asked about the impulse behind Classic Chic’s approach. “The number of female roles, female playwrights, and female directors are all lower than men, and yet 60% of typical theatre audiences are women.”

Classic Chic addresses the imbalance by staging productions that allow audiences to experience classic works through a female lens and create rare opportunities for women actors. Past Classic Chic productions have seen the company take on The Winter’s Tale by Shakespeare and David Mamet’s testosterone-driven Glengarry Glen Ross.

“As performers, particularly with classical works, there aren’t many meaty female roles written,” Akeson said. “And those that exist don’t get to wield a lot of power, generally.”

“There are a lot of companies that do gender blind or cross-gender casting,” Akeson elaborated. “But what we do is the practice of playing all male roles as men -- not changing the gender of the role.”

In Corleone, this means Akeson will have the opportunity to portray the aggressive warrior Sunny Corleone (“I’m envious of James Caan’s shoulders,” she quips) and Frank Sinatra-esque lounge singer Johnny Fontaine.

“It’s hard to put into exact words, but there’s something interesting that happens to when we get to play these different journeys and different roles,” Akeson described. “I think somewhere in the back of the [audience’s] mind is this slight awareness that there is more feminine on the stage. They watching the play purely for what it is -- and yet there’s a heightened sensitivity to the harshness, the brutality, and the unfairness -- not just to women, but to other men.

“It’s not meant to be a comment. It’s not meant to be a gimmick. We’re just humans on stage.”

Classic Chic presents Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather Feb. 3 to 25 at Pacific Theatre. Info at pacifictheatre.org.