My girlfriend and I are the realist types. We know that love, and all the things that go along with it, are just one part of life. Talk of passionate, star-crossed lovers who take their own lives makes us roll our eyes and smirk knowingly at each other. Romeo and Juliet are a hard sell. Judging by the amount of empty seats after the intermission at The Centaur’s Romeo and Juliet last Wednesday, we are not alone.
To be fair, the play, directed by Centaur artistic director Gordon McCall, clocks in at three hours plus intermission which, sadly, is just too long for many people. The length is not a result of poor pacing so much as McCall’s decision to leave Shakespeare’s text, usually trimmed liberally for modern audiences, largely untouched. The strategy pays off when the experienced, exciting actors of the ensemble get to perform seldom-heard passages. However, and somewhat predictably, the show drags when the density of the text eludes the grasp of the younger actors, as in Benvolio and Romeo’s opening scenes.
Brett Watson as Mercutio is a joy to watch. He balances his character’s bravado, wit and jocundity with an equal dose of violence and the suggestion of a seriously damaged individual underneath the showy persona. Michel Perron also delivers a remarkably genuine performance as the warm-hearted Friar Lawrence. Perron possesses an ability to make blank verse sound like articulate everyday speech that eludes most actors. Concordia grads are well-represented with Anthousa Harris as Juliet and Tadgh McMahon as Paris, both commendably credible in their difficult roles.
The setting is probably the boldest choice made in the entire production. McCall has gone the route of modernizing the setting with contemporary, albeit decidedly theatrical costume, pre-recorded video feed and utilitarian scenic elements that are all worked in smoothly. The illusion threatens to collapse in on itself a few times though. In the opening tableau, the cast stands sternly facing the audience as though at a stylized funeral. They hold black umbrellas, and are dressed entirely in black, with melodramatic Ray-Ban-like sunglasses on.
My girlfriend: “Is this Shakespeare, or Men in Black?” Me: “Rainy and sunny? That’s theatre magic!” My girlfriend: “Put on your art goggles, it’s raining pretension!”
The most headshake-worthy moment comes in the final act though. Paris is in the Capulet family tomb, mourning his dead would-be bride when, after delivering a heartfelt monologue in nearly total darkness, his cellphone rings. My girlfriend: “I can never get reception in mausoleums. I wonder who his carrier is.” Apparently, the desired effect is to make the crowd think that the phone belongs to one of them and it has just rung at the worst possible time. Mission accomplished. But why, when the play takes such pains to take itself seriously – did I mention that the sunglasses come back? – does McCall want to poke a big, funny hole in the sail of his concept right before the climactic scene?
Luckily, the best fight choreography of the show follows close behind. McCall has staged all the swordfights with long crowbars in lieu of rapiers or