Out Sept 1

Colours to the Chameleon: Canadian Actors on Shakespeare - Keith Garebian
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

Keith Garebian sounds like the type of guy that you would love to discuss Shakespeare with. He has a wide knowledge not only of the Bard but of the actors and the history of Shakespearean theatre. This book shines a much-needed light on to the Canadian actors of Shakespeare. At times the book is interesting and even funny, but at other times it is frustrating and trying.

For the most part, the interviews with eleven actors (4 women, 7 men) are interesting, offer an oral history of not only the respective actors’ careers but of Shakespearean performance in Canada. At times the actors push back at some of the criticism leveled at them – for instance, Juan Chioran’s comments about how is acting is different then the traditional Angelo method.

Yet, I left the book with a better understanding of the men than I did the women. Part of this is because the male/female ratio undoubtedly. I mean you have nice romantic Shakespeare roles, but when we think great Shakespeare women, we usually go Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Beatrice and maybe Juliet. So, I can understand the obsession that the author seems to have with Lady Macbeth. I do. But too much of the book in regards to some of the women actors is spent with Garebian telling the reader what he or someone else thinks about Lady Macbeth first and then with the women, usually simply agreeing with the statement. I don’t blame Garebian – Lady Macbeth is Lady Macbeth but his enthusiasm overwhelms those chapters. I would love to hear what he has to say about her. But I would also really like to hear what else the actors have to say in those sections. For instance, did anyone of them play say Cleopatra?

The one exception to this is Chick Reid’s chapter, which in many ways is the best section in the book. In Reid’s chapter we have a look at the use of gender switching in the theatre (i.e. a female Lear) and how it effects the play and character. In addition, while several of the actors in the book also teach, Reid is where we get the most information about teaching. IT is a very interesting chapter and stands out from the rest. In fact, that chapter itself is worth the cost of the book.

This book is in many ways an excellent look at Shakespeare and acting as well as highlighting the theatre in Canada.