Thursday, May 29, 2008

Too Much Action, Not Enough Talk, in Romeo

John Coulbourn (Sun Media) gives Romeo and Juliet 2.5 stars out of 5:

"In his first production as artistic director of the newly rechristened Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Des McAnuff seems determined to establish that, when it comes to romance, he's an old-fashioned kind of guy.

"In his production of Romeo And Juliet, which officially launched not just his reign, but the current season as well, on Monday on the stage of the Festival Theatre, McAnuff starts us off in a Verona very much of today, filled with I-pods, baby carriages, pistols and machine guns.

"But once the action cuts to the costume ball where our tragic young hero, played in this production by Gareth Potter, meets our young heroine, played by Nikki M. James, the entire production suddenly rockets back to Elizabethan times. There, it remains, firmly lodged, until our two star-crossed lovers meet a tragic end, at which time, we are suddenly drop-kicked back to modern-day Soprano-land for a brief denouement.

"Theatrically, it's a device that not only affords McAnuff and his overly-fussy set designer, Heidi Ettinger, the opportunity to throw in visual flourishes such as Vespas and cappuccino machines, it also gives costume designer Paul Tazewell a double workout, re-upholstering, as he must, not only R & J's two feuding houses, but two disparate eras as well.

"As for what it adds to the show, well, that's a little difficult to say, beyond a bit of head-scratching diversion for those unaccustomed to the peripatetic nature of time in theatre.

"It's all part and parcel of what is essentially a very busy production, filled with to-ing and fro-ing and otherwise all a bustle, determined to never miss a chance to keep the action up and its audience engaged, a new scene already under way before the set pieces for the scene just passed are swallowed up by a voracious floor or wheeled back into the wings.

"In a McAnuff production, going with the flow is as easy as sitting back and letting things carry you along, seemingly pulled inexorably by the ever-shifting colours of the sun/moon that hangs over and dominates the stage.

"But this is, after all, the world of Shakespeare, where the play is the thing -- and frankly, for all that it includes snippets of dialogue rarely used in a modern production, this play is not all that well served, particularly by a largely inexperienced cast that has but a tenuous hold on spoken verse.

"As Romeo, Potter only achieves the higher ranges of adequate, held back by James who, while she most certainly looks the part of the lovesick young Juliet, lacks the voice to fill this theatre and the directoral impetus to face her audience.

"A seasoned actor with a trained voice might get away with giving the public her back as frequently as James, but then a seasoned actor probably wouldn't.

"In supporting roles, it's a mixed bag, with Stratford veterans such as Peter Donaldson cast as the kind but ultimately bumbling Friar Laurence, and Lucy Peacock, as Juliet's nurse, offering strong turns in small roles, although the latter could pare things down.

"Steven Sutcliffe, for his part, makes the most of a rather colourless Paris while Evan Buliung offers up an acceptably hale Mercutio who seems content to say more through mime than through Shakespeare's glorious text. Paul Dunn, meanwhile, covers everything he does with an elaborate web of fussiness.

"There are, in addition to a few Stratford veterans such as Wayne Best and Brian Tree, a whole passel of new faces, with 22 debuts listed both behind the scenes and on stage in this production. Not surprisingly, all things considered, it sits on the stage like the new kid in school, determined to impress, talking too loud (or not loud enough) and aspiring to a maturity he hasn't quite achieved. "

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