ROMEO AND JULIET
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is the tragedy of a community whose internal violence gets so out of hand that its most precious assets, its children, are cut down in their prime. Dean Paul Gibson’s modern dress production for Bard on the Beach reminds us how sadly contemporary this situation remains.
With swords and daggers stuck into every part of the stage, Kevin McAllister’s wood-toned set looks like a combination knife-drawer and chopping block. When the company opens the play with an aggressive choral recitation, we can feel the toxic energy in the air of Verona.
At the Capulets’ party, Gibson stages Romeo and Juliet’s romantic first meeting in counterpoint with an ominous stop-action, ritualistic dance of death by the rest of the company. Punctuated by frightening bursts of laughter underlined by Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe’s scary sound score, the scene is reminiscent of a German expressionist painting come to life.
Despite these dark notes, Shakespeare has made the first part of his play a comedy. In this production Juliet (Taylor Trowbridge) and Romeo (Kyle Rideout) are driven by an adolescent giddiness that at times threatens to trample even the great poetry of the balcony scene.
Two terrific performances drive the comic action. Bob Frazer brings edgy charm and enormous energy to Romeo’s friend Mercutio, whose stupid early death marks the transition from comedy to tragedy. As Juliet’s lady-in-waiting, Lois Anderson is youthful, attractive, and very funny in ways utterly unlike the grotesque old bawd we often see as the Nurse.
These two great characters frequently upstage the star-crossed young lovers in productions of the play. But here the situation is exacerbated by uneven work from Trowbridge and a lack of chemistry between Romeo and Juliet. As the situation spirals out of control and these sweet, innocent kids’ lives turn nightmarish, we need to be swept along not just in the tide of events but in the passion of their doomed love. That doesn’t often happen here.
What we get instead are many intense emotional moments of anger and grief: from Juliet’s father (Duncan Fraser), who threatens to kill her if she doesn’t marry the man of his choice, then keens over her corpse; from David Marr’s virile Friar Laurence, who grabs the weepy Romeo and tries to shake him into being a man; from Rideout’s Romeo, better at anguish than at love; and from Ian Butcher’s powerful Prince, whose threats and injunctions fail to steer his subjects from their destructive course until too late.
Overseeing it all are the ghosts of Mercutio and Tybalt (Michael Scholar, Jr.). The dead flowers of Veronese youth haunt the stage, reminders of the tragic waste and self-inflicted doom.