Reviewed by James Karas
Scott Wentworth directs a bold and imaginative production of Romeo and Juliet for the Stratford Festival that scores some successes, some questionable choices and some disagreeable picks.
The most notable feature of this production is Wentworth’s funereal approach. While the Chorus (Sarah Dodd) is reciting the prologue, there are four women dressed in black on the stage holding candles. They are Widows, roles that have been added by the director. There is a wooden box on the stage that looks like a coffin. We will see the box/coffin, the Widows and candles a number of times during the performance.
Antoine Yared as Romeo and Sara Farb as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The costumes by Designer Christina Poddubiuk are aggressively black enforcing the funereal atmosphere.
Antoine Yared and Sara Farb take the title roles and subject to some comments they do fine work. Farb’s Juliet is a self-assured and spunky girl who screams when startled and demands it when she wants something. When she meets Romeo for the first time and he asks to kiss her, she grants his request not by not moving as the text states. This Juliet “moves.” A well done and refreshingly vibrant Juliet from Farb.
Yared is a fine-looking Romeo and he carries the role mostly well. But there are times when he rushes through his lines. The first exchange with Juliet is a beautiful sonnet and it deserves to be recited as such. Yared does not. When he finds Juliet “dead” in the crypt, in his deep grief he asks if Death has kept her beautiful because he wants her for his paramour. He should be looking intensely at Juliet and saying those lines with passionate grief. In emotionally charged scenes he needed to enunciate, modulate his voice and slow down a bit.
Seana McKenna plays the garrulous Nurse who has many lines and some raunchy humour. McKenna got the best of the character through judicious modulation of her voice and plain fine acting even in some of her long speeches that are frequently shortened but were not in this production.
Members of the company in Romeo and Juliet. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The rest of the cast was generally very good. Noteworthy are Evan Buliung as Mercutio, Zlatomir Moldovanski as Tybalt and Randy Hughson as Capulet.
Some of Wentworth’s approaches to scenes are worthy of comment. Romeo and Juliet spend a night together and he must leave in the morning but they have a lovers’ talk as to the time of day. Wentworth has them spend the night on the open stage with almost no suggestion that they consummated their marriage and then some. That robs the play of much substance for people who had to guess as to what happened.
When we first meet Friar Laurence in his cell he has a soliloquy before Romeo enters and he is alone in the text. Wentworth has the widows holding candles on the stage. Interesting but I am not sure if this added anything to the production. When Friar Laurence expresses his shock at Romeo’s request that he marry him and Juliet that day by invoking “Holy Francis” he gets a well-deserved laugh for the way he delivers the words.
From left: Marion Adler as Lady Capulet, Sara Farb as Juliet and Seana McKenna as Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Before Juliet takes the potion that the Friar gave her, she is walked to her bed by the Widows. When Romeo is in the Capulets’ vault, the dead Tybalt walks to the casket and lies on it with a swath of blood visible on his stomach. Very dramatic.
The casket, the walking dead, the Widows, the dark funeral atmosphere are all interesting directorial additions but I found some of them only partially successful. There are a number of deaths in Romeo and Juliet but that is not the focus of the play. The play is about the star-crossed lovers but bringing the long-term deadly effects of the feud between the two families and the consequent creation of widows may be defensible. Subject to these points, it is an impressive production even if you disagree with its point of view.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare opened on June 1 and will run until October 21, 2017 at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca