I’ve been a little hard on The Citadel Theatre (and its audiences) and Tom Woods in the past, but, I have to say, the current staging of Romeo and Juliet is a tremendous, thoughtful romp. Sadly, there are only a few days left in its run — could one imagine it being held over?
Wood’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream two seasons ago was a pleasant enough treatment, a painless entry to Shakespeare for school kids and those wishing to avoid challenge. It was comfortable.
Wood’s Romeo and Juliet also has a degree of comfort, but it is, thankfully, and in spite of the youth of the characters, a fully adult outing. In the opening slow-motion melee of Capulet and Montague women and men, blood is drawn front and centre, by a dirk to the eye, no less. Mercutio’s (Jamie Cavanagh) life’s blood oozes from a belly wound, Tybalt’s (Nick Abraham) face is beaten in, and Friar Lawrence (Jamie Williams) delivers his opening monologue on herbs from a very unusual position. Wood has given an interesting subtext to the relationship between Tybalt and Lady Capulet (Mabelle Carvajal) – they got a thing going on – which perfectly emphasizes the youth of the Lady — she is roughly twenty-six as written. There is desperate clutching for life in deadly feud- and plague-ruled Verona.
The matinee show I saw featured Brendan McMurtry-Howlett and Shaina Silver-Baird, the “young Romeo and Juliet” – two pairs of actors alternate in the roles. McMurtry-Howlett, all wiry and hopped up on youth and love with golden curls on top, put me in mind of young Brent Carver in the same role in 1976. Silver-Baird, perhaps not everyone’s idea of Juliet, is a head-strong fire-plug, controlling her situation – and the stage – with an unexpected certainty. In short, a teenage girl. Any idea that these are two foolish, mooning, love-struck youth is immediately erased by Silver-Baird’s Juliet’s determination. Indeed, because Wood has banished the Chorus from the opening, replacing him with a plainsong choir, Romeo and Juliet are not “star-crossed” on this stage. The sole cause of their tragedy is that Friar Lawrence’s letter did not reach Mantua. We believe their love will last.
A technical note: I was pleased, particularly after the over-amplified but spectacular Mary Poppins next door, that for Romeo and Juliet the Citadel set aside the microphones. It was so good to hear the actors voices coming from where the actors actually stood, instead of them all being gathered in an unidentifiable place somewhere over my head. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I’ve always felt that, given a space with appropriate acoustics, actors should use their talents and their actual voices to reach the audience. It was gratifying to see this cast reminding us that whatever technical wonders are available, theatre is at its essential, an actor and an audience. With just their voices, Tom Wood’s direction, and Shakespeare’s words, the cast from the Robbins Academy held us spellbound for three hours – no small feet in our 140 character world.
Romeo and Juliet will be at the Citadel Theatre on the MacLab stage until April 27.
Just for fun, when I got home, I rooted around and found my copy of the poster from the 1976 John Neville directed production starring Brent Carver and Nicky Guadagni:
(and I tried to ignore Colin Maclean’s sexist comments on that 1976 production)