Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Romeo and Juliet Accused of Being Adolescent

Review from Gary Smith at the Hamilton Spectator:

"The news from Verona is not very good. If Des McAnuff's idea of Shakespeare is the sadly adolescent production of Romeo and Juliet paraded across Stratford's stage Monday night we are in for a rough ride.

"A burning ball of a hot sun heats passions on a cobblestone street as Italian stallions loll about on red and blue scooters. A scruffy red-headed chap sips espresso at a cafe table. Schoolgirls, in those awful mini-tartans some people think pass for uniforms, text message with BlackBerrys.

"Oh my, it's all so trivial. It's been done before.

"McAnuff might think he's forcing Shakespeare into a realm of relevance but surely the play's timeless messages speak for themselves.

"Do we really need blatant images to remind us the world remains a frightening place? Not really.

"Partway through, for no discernible reason, other than directorial conceit, McAnuff rushes us backward in time. The cast don tights and pick up swords, until close to the end.

"In the final tomb scene, Veronese citizens reappear, decked out in modern dress, brandishing flashlights that flick in our face.

"You know the drill. You are all responsible. Oh dear, it's so tired.

"In spite of being politically correct, with an interracial, even cross-gendered cast, this production is obvious and coarse.

"It never fails to be vulgar, cleaving to a heavy-handed, shrill sort of comedy that may thrill 15 year olds brought up on Adam Sandler movies.

"Stripped of poetry, hustled back and forth in time, Shakespeare's lovers are robbed of real truth. It's only near the end, when they clasp each other tightly, recognizing how easily love can be stalled by circumstance, that this production chugs to life.

"Gareth Potter is a visceral Romeo, suggesting the passion of a confused, troubled kid. He speaks Shakespeare's text with a knot of feral rage. But where is the poetry?

"Well, I guess motor scooters and jeans don't jive with anything as elitist as that.

"Nikki M. James starts slowly with a breathless little voice. Her Juliet improves as the play forges on, suggesting a 14 year-old befuddled by life. She's almost too innocent and naive, both in character and performance. And she looks uncomfortable in period dress.

"The rest of this Stratford cast is a pretty mixed bag. Evan Buliung, an actor with smarts, has resorted to a Mercutio of crotch-clutching coarseness.

"Such excess typifies the vulgar nature of this ho-hum production. The slightest suggestion of matters sexual has double entendres dropping like chestnuts from Verona trees.

"Even Peter Donaldson's Friar Laurence gets off some scuzzy line readings here.

"Lucy Peacock's broad interpretation of Juliet's nurse is funny at the start but never regains important dignity as the story progresses.

"Sophia Walker as Lady Capulet is simply an embarrassment, all high school mannerisms and theatre school enthusiasm.

"Not much about the physical production is thrilling. Heidi Ettinger's sets offer atmosphere at the expense of Stratford's famous stage.

"Paul Tazewell's costumes are a casualty of McAnuff's troubled vision.

"A soundscape, annoyingly new age, is a mistake. So is rock music added to a rackety curtain. Neither makes the production modern.

"Over the years, Stratford has staged some dismal productions of this most romantic Shakespearean play. Remember Marion Day and Jonathan Crombie in 1997? Well, don't look for redemption here.

"This is a very American take on Shakespeare making me long for Britain's Chichester Theatre production of Macbeth with its Stalinist terror. Or better yet, Britain's National Theatre's traditional take on Much Ado About Nothing.

"It's in the vision of course. When you reduce Shakespeare to the parameters of a Hollywood action flick, you're pretty much in trouble."

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