Chet Greason, Gazette staff
When I heard the production of Romeo and Juliet would be utilizing “original practices,” as in methods utilized by the original Elizabethan companies who first performed it, I pictured soft lighting, disjointed music plucked on obscure instruments, red handkerchiefs used to simulate flowing blood, and staid emoting. I hoped they’d draw the line at an all-male cast.
I thought it was a risky move that might alienate some patrons used to more contemporary productions, but I was excited. It sounded like a unique experience, like when INNERchamber performed a baroque night played on catgut instruments at Factory 163.
Instead, this production utilizes only a few of these aspects: a quartet of minstrels perform Elizabethan fanfares before the show and during intermission, as well as heralding the changing scenes; the costumes are authentically garish and foppish; the dances are the renaissance-era’s equivelant to dirty dancing.
Other “original practices” fall flat, such as the decision to keep the house lights up for the duration of the play. We’re told, via an original introduction that is decidedly not in iambic pentameter, that the lights are to simulate an outdoor setting; unfortunately, the constantly lit stage comes off as simply lazy, and the visible audience hurts the play’s intimacy.
Characters, for the most part, deliver their lines much as you’d expect them to; adapting it to modern speech patterns so audiences will follow the feelings behind the words. Jonathan Goad particularly shines as the ribald Mercutio. Tom McCamus, as Father Laurence, has some great moments as well, especially when lambasting the distraught Romeo. Kate Hennig, as the Nurse, had the crowd chuckling ... and when she looked to the heavens, raising her hands in exasperation, was that a hint of Golde, the character Hennig plays in this year’s production of Fiddler on the Roof? Whatever...it worked!
Scott Wentworth owns the stage as the thundering head of the Capulet household, and Mike Nadajewski found some fine comedic moments as servant Peter.
Other highlights include the gorgeous choral singing that starts the second act and, of course, the dual-bladed swordfights, which were masterfully choreographed.
The comedic aspect of the play was done so well, in fact, that it may have put the crowd, already unnerved by being laid bare by the houselights, in an overly jovial mood. I’ve seen the Stratford Festival’s production of Romeo and Juliet twice; both shows were afternoon matinees played out in front of elementary and high school students. During both productions, the mostly-student audience was laughing uncontrollably at moments that are decidedly unfunny ... Juliet breaking down in sobs at the news of Romeo’s banishment; Romeo slaying Paris; there were even catcalls when Romeo, thinking Juliet dead, climbs astride her prone body to share one last kiss and drink his poison. One little idiot twice whipped out a laser pointer.
Perhaps all the silliness was a nervous reaction to being laid bare by the houselights and subjected to raw, human emotion; the kind of laughter meant to assure the person next to you that you’re perfectly comfortable when you’re decidedly not.
By the time the full cast returned to the stage for a prolonged curtain call/song and dance, the mood was decidedly awkward.
I suppose an audience full of restless texters and gamers is not the sort of crowd you want to see a stripped-down version of a Shakespearean play with. The complete lack of set, lighting, and even props (save for the most necessary) means the show relies solely on the delivery of its words, and for those unfamiliar with the text, or who have not yet developed an appreciation for it, this production of Romeo and Juliet can make for a long couple of hours.
Still, it might be worth the trouble for drama and English teachers to prep their students on proper live theatre etiquette before attending another performance.