|photo by Joel Charlebois|
by Kelly Bedard
I am extraordinarily picky when it comes to Romeo and Juliet. I adore the play and have what my friend Maddi calls "thoughts and feelings" about it, meaning I'm overly attached to a very strict interpretation that exists in my head of the pedestalled piece. I know it like the back of my hand, to the point where I'm counting off the scenes as they go "okay, 1.5 down, wow they completely cut 2.1, straight into the balcony?". Basically, I'm an R and J geek who believes that Lord Capulet is a key character, it's grossly detrimental to try and stage it in period, Paris should be highlighted and that the only truly great Romeos are those elusive golden boys with the priceless ability to light up a room just by walking into it. Shakespeare in Action's student-geared, pared-down matinee version is far from perfect, but when Romeo and Juliet is taken off the page by the right director and ensemble, it sweeps you up until you don't care about the details anymore.
|photo by Pierre Gautreau|
Also miscast, or rather misused, is Eze Angius doublecast as Paris and Tybalt. The former takes the handsome and charming actor and makes him a snivelling dork; I would have much preferred a more even-keeled Paris who doesn't make a liar of the Nurse when she drowns him in compliments. The latter is an odd Karate Kid-like combatant who, with fewer than 20 lines, seems more full of words than fire. A few attempts are made at establishing some sort of connection between Tybalt and Lady Capulet but he generally seems sourcelessly and unconvincingly angry, a caricature when he needn't be one. David Shelley's Mercutio is similarly uninteresting, though at least significantly more likable. It's remarkably difficult to deliver a truly remarkable Mercutio; he's always expected to steal the show yet not outfitted with scenes that make that particularly easy (especially here with most of his bawdiest humour deleted). Shelley does an admirable job with what is actually incredibly demanding language and very little character guidance, though he gets swallowed up by Alexander's dynamic spotlight competition and out-endeared by Marcel's Stewart's sweet hipster/nerd Benvolio. Mercutio dies before truly establishing who he is in the text- he's clever, he makes some good jokes, points out the occasional truth, but gets no story of his own- it's the actor's job to attribute him a rich character life, but Shelley relies on excellent comic timing and the strength of the text to carry him, which isn't quite enough.
With only 9 ensemble members, cross-casting like Angius' is to be expected. And for the most part it works quite well. Peter Smith is the grand poohbah of older male roles, differentiating his many characters easily, while clever costuming and a conveniently invisible Apothecary help to clarify who's who. The only time it bothers me is when Nicole Roberts dresses her Nurse up in a police uniform to double as the Prince. She's simply ill-suited to the role, her shrill Nursy daffiness grating on my nerves when she speaks lines of authority, though it's perfectly fine the rest of the time.
There might be a few casting issues, the occasional character interpretation misstep, but Shakespeare in Action's Romeo and Juliet flies along as the generally talented ensemble delivers the bard's verse with the clarity and understanding that I like to take for granted from professional companies (though I often find it lacking). All my little R and J quibbles matter only on paper as I sit and nitpick after the fact. The modern staging is right on the mark and the time-efficient cut barely even broke my heart at all (though I was sad to see Paris deleted from Act 5 and Mercutio lose his 2.1. Oh, and Romeo's 5.1 dream speech- I missed that too!). But when it comes down to it, I'm not sure I've ever seen a Romeo and Juliet as successful as this one. I've seen interpretations more innovative (like Sarah Gazdowicz's 2010 production) and performances far more refined (Des McAnuff's 2008 version, for instance), but I've never been quite so convinced to actually care about the silly teenagers in the title and their ever-so-misguided love. With Kaleb Alexander and Shaina Silver-Baird, it didn't feel all that misguided, because I was swept into the love right along with them, until I turned into a silly teenager too.
Romeo and Juliet plays until November 25th at The Central Commerce Theatre in Toronto.