The Globe and Mail's review:
Sometimes passion just isn't enough
By KATE TAYLOR
Monday, June 3, 2002 – Print Edition, Page R4
In Romeo and Juliet, the scholars will tell you, Shakespeare took the classic structure of comedy -- aged opposition to young love -- and turned it into a tragedy driven not so much by the characters' fatal flaws as by a series of ironic coincidences. On Stratford's main stage, director Miles Potter never loses sight of the play's comic potential and is still getting laughs out of the script well after Tybalt's death, traditionally the plot's turning point.
In theory, it's an approach that should build exquisite tension into the errors and misunderstandings that bring us to the lovers' deaths. In practice, it seems like a rare misstep in the lively and well-spoken production that opened at the Festival Theatre Friday afternoon.
Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's -- and Stratford's -- most popular plays; this is its eighth production at the festival since 1953. Yet it's the first time since 1984 that the company has set the action in Renaissance Italy. The play's theme of love destroyed by internecine warfare resonates so powerfully in modern times, that few directors can resist making political points by moving the action forward. In 1997, the last time the play was staged here, it was set in the Napoleonic French West Indies.
But if Potter and designer Patrick Clark are taking a more conventional approach, there's nothing dull about the results. With the women decked out in billowing gowns and grand hairpieces while the men are fitted into tight hose with very prominent codpieces, the production does great justice to the excitement of the sword fights on the one hand and the meaning of the poetry on the other. Best of all, it features -- in Graham Abbey and Claire Jullien -- a pair of lovers who are sweetly and lusciously in love: he all buoyant cheer, she all earnest energy.
The production is further enlivened by Wayne Best's menacingly unbalanced Mercutio and Nicolas Van Burek's smarmy Tybalt while, as the Capulets, Scott Wentworth and Julia Donovan darkly produce a domestic tyrant and his brittle lady, hinting that Juliet has not grown up in a happy home.
If Lally Cadeau and Keith Dinicol predictably play the Nurse and Friar Laurence with the initial comedy that makes those characters and their errors sympathetic, Potter encourages us to judge the Capulets more harshly. This is a production that makes much of the generation gap between foolish, prejudiced and compromising age and purer youth.
But it is also a production that makes mistakes. In staging the ball at the Capulets, Potter shows pairs of dancers fondling each other as though to echo Romeo's wooing of Juliet, an odd and distracting bit of staging that leaves Juliet's intended, the Count Paris (Patrick Galligan), cuddling up to Lady Capulet.
Similarly, the comic moments late in the play may just read as a few ill-considered bits of staging. When Juliet agrees to marry Paris, she flings herself at her father's feet in mock prostration that may underline the pretense behind her acquiescence but is too slapstick in tone to fit the scene. When she has drunk the friar's magic potion and her family supposes her dead, the entrance of jubilant wedding musicians into her chamber unbalances that scene with its grotesqueries.
The results of these errors are now damaging. Tension that should be building is slackening here, an effect compounded by Jullien's inability to move the character into grief.
Confronted with the enduring challenge of this role -- Edith Terry said that once an actress was old enough to understand the character she was too old to play her -- Jullien does not rise to the play's final scenes, which find her and an equally limited Cadeau wailing ludicrously. She looks here not like an adolescent trying on the new emotion of grief, but rather like an actress trying on postures.
Abbey, on the other hand, does not falter, proving as moving in anguish as he was in joy, and as he falls weeping at Friar Laurence's feet, it's not hard to predict who Stratford's next Hamlet should be.
But that lies in the future. In the present, this a production that passes the first test of Romeo and Juliet, which is to make an audience moist with the lovers' passion, but fails the second, which is to then keep it hoping against hope that this time the ending will turn out differently. Here, the climax seems increasingly perfunctory after what was a wonderfully engaging start.
Romeo and Juliet runs at Stratford's Festival Theatre until Nov. 2. For Information: 1-800-567-1600
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