|Daniel Briere and Sara Topham as R&J|
But still I go when it's somewhere near, just about always. (Some Shakespeare is better than no Shakespeare.) As a result, I'm tired of it. Have chunks of it memorized. Recognize its weaknesses as one of his early plays, weaknesses whose prominence grows under repetition's magnifying glass.
I've not seen it done well very often, either. Many companies go with young, hot leads, hoping the hotness will prevent people from noticing that R&J don't always know what they're saying. I've also seen directors fly in plane-loads of bells and whistles to ring and shriek throughout so that, perhaps, the audience won't notice that the principals ... suck. Videos playing on huge screens. Uzis. Rock bands. I've seen it all.
So ... when I saw the list for the Stratford Festival's season, I very nearly did not buy tickets for Romeo and Juliet. Did I really want to hear those lines again? Watch young actors botch them? Witness another anguished iteration of a pointless double suicide?
But I bought them. This is Stratford, after all (we've spent a week here every year since 2001), so there was hope. I've seen some of the best productions here that I've ever seen--and I've seen the Bard in New York and London--and many other towns tiny and towering. I still remember a magical Pericles here, a great cycle of Henry plays (Parts One, Two, and Henry V with the same players in the same season), a Midsummer Night's Dream in an Amazon rain forest, a cowboy Taming of the Shrew, and on and on. So ... out from my wallet flew the plastic ...
But I was not looking forward to it, not at all. That long walk from our room in Mercer Hall to the Festival Theatre--that long walk back in the dark. With another Romeo and Juliet in between? Really?
Also--I saw from the program that some of the Festival's "veteran" actors were playing some of the young people. The wonderful Jonathan Goad (eleven seasons) and Sara Topham (thirteen seasons) were playing, respectively, Mercutio and Juliet. Could they convince? I wasn't sure. (What a stupid bias I'm evincing here--one I ought to have been more sensitive to since I'm 68 years old!) True, young David Briere (Romeo) was making his Festival debut ... and how would that play? The minor roles were loaded with great Stratford talent: Wayne Best (Montague), Scott Wentworth (Capulet), Tom McCamus (Friar Laurence), and others. That was encouraging.
When we settled into our seats, I saw a bare stage. More happiness. No (apparent) fancy-pantsing seemed imminent. I was hopeful--even mentioned to Joyce that perhaps they were going to do it in the "old" (Elizabethan) fashion. That would be a new one for me.
And so they did ... as I would have known if I had read the program before the show instead of afterwards!
TO BE CONTINUED: Next time--the production that dazzled ...