Let no one say that Plosive Productions doesn’t take chances. Starting with the draped white tunnel leading from the foyer to the theatre, there is the promise of a new and different experience. My guest and I were excited with anticipation of the new and experimental. We eagerly awaited the start of the production.
The Gladstone website promises “William Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy reimagined. 4 actors, 80 minutes of raw, intimate passion.” David daCosta and Mekdes Teshome are Romeo and Juliet. Lawrence Evenchick and Robin Hodge cover many other roles. Evenchick’s roles include Mercutio, Friar Lawrence, Nurse, Lord Montague, the Apothecary and the Prince. Hodge’s include Benvolio, Lady Capulet, Tybalt, Lord Capulet and Balthazar.
Evenchick gave the most consistent performance, projecting clearly in all his roles. But the production started weakly, with Teshome’s voice being difficult to hear in the first quarter of the production. LaCosta was easier to hear, but his projection came and went over the evening. I could always hear Robin Hodge, but sometimes her diction didn’t keep pace with her speech.
Perhaps because of vocal projection problems in the space, six microphones were hung from the ceiling over the stage. However, these created an echo effect that sometimes made poorly projected lines even harder to hear accurately.
This matters for two reasons. First, in an abridged version like this, the audience needs to develop a relationship with the characters early to be drawn into the play. If some of the text is inaudible early on, the audience doesn’t make that connection. Second, director Whiteley has chosen to use no costume cues for character changes, so the audience must rely on the text to spot when Evenchick and Hodge change roles, typically by being addressed by name by Juliet or Romeo. Hard to do if the audience is straining to hear.
Whiteley’s direction to Teshome as Juliet emphasizes the tempestuous roller coaster rides of the emotions associated with her young age (13). If you’re accustomed to more restrained classical performances of Juliet, this may be jarring. If you have teenage neighbours, Juliet will seem very familiar. Whiteley’s interpretation fits both the text and the modern psychology of teenage brain development.
In fact, all the hotheads of the play – Tybalt, Mercurio, and Romeo – come across as teenagers messing about with deadly weapons. A dangerous combination that still plays out on Ottawa streets after midnight.
And yet, for all that emotion, I felt distanced from the action. The effort to understand what was being said kept me and my guest disconnected. Important scenes were there, but I failed to be moved. While this is a significantly abridged version, that doesn’t necessarily have to hamper the experience.
Fans of the poet Shel Silverstein may know his Hamlet as Told on the Streets, a highly abridged version set as modern beat poetry. Silverstein’s poem flashes with the essence of Hamlet.
Similarly, Salamander Theatre recently presented an abridged three-person version of Macbeth that excited teenage and adult audiences alike.
Romeo and Juliet REDUX failed to touch my heart.
Audience reaction was mixed. A few souls stood for an ovation. The young woman beside me repeatedly checked her smart phone for the time during the performance. One person walked out during the performance.
Contrary to David Whiteley’s wishes in the program, I did not leave Romeo and Juliet REDUX feeling richer for the experience.
Romeo and Juliet REDUX is playing at The Gladstone Theatre (910 Gladstone Avenue). Saturday October 8 and Tuesday to Saturday October 11 to 15 at 7:30PM. Matinees Saturday October 8 and 15, and Sunday October 9 at 2:30PM. Adult tickets are $38 (including HST). Senior tickets are $34, and Student/Artist/Unwaged tickets are $22. Tickets are available online at www.thegladstone.ca and at the theatre’s box office.