Romeo & Juliet

The Edmonton Citadel
Spring 2001
“Roles to Die For – Juliet”
By Liz Nicholls, The Edmonton Journal

The Citadel’s newest Juliet, a pre-Raphaelite beauty with strawberry-blond hair extensions, emerges from rehearsal – on a scooter.

Meet Tara Hughes, the young, smart, farm-kid-turned-actor who’s landed one of the great roles in the repertoire and isn’t the type to rehash off-the rack views. Juliet, she declares, is “such a fighter! I love her for that.”

There’s something engagingly fresh, off-centre and original about Hughes, both in her work and in person. Maybe it’s because she’s so “in person” onstage, as directors and theatre-goers in Edmonton and Calgary are coming to appreciate. Citadel audiences have seen the delicate-looking Hughes as a hilariously addled serial killer in Popcorn. They’ve watched her bring a tragic dimension to Mayella Ewell, the abused and ignorant hillbilly girl whose lie costs a black man his life in To Kill a Mockingbird. They’ve seen her as one of a quartet of sparky but confused lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Now she’s Juliet, a “dream come true” as Hughes says, opposite Brian Marler as Romeo in Tom Wood’s Citadel production that starts previews Saturday.

Hughes is ready to go to bat for a couple of star-cross’d kids from opposite sides of a feud, and defend them from their own reputation as moony-eyed adolescent dreamboats of the squishy persuasion. “They’re not dreamy,” she protests. “Their poetry is alive and vigorous. It’s used to provoke activity or change, or as a gift. Not just to colour the air.”

There’s much about Juliet, poster girl for love at first sight, that resonates with Hughes. A country kid for “out in the middle of nowhere, 45 minutes east of Ponoka,” she talks about Juliet as a highly imaginative girl with no one to share her thoughts. “Juliet has a comfortable life, a loving nurse, lots of money. But there’s always something missing. It’s a rough, expensive, showy world. Violent.”

That’s why she can be so irrevocably sure that gentle, playful Romeo is the right guy for her, from the first moment.

Hughes knows about solitude. “I went to country school, bused there and back, so there was no going to a friend’s place after school. I rode my horse. My horse was my first and only friend for a long time.”

Juliet’s attachment to her family, and her huge bravery in defying them to pursue forbidden love, aren’t a closed book to Hughes, either. “I was so sheltered; for ages my biggest fear was that my parents would die. Being afraid to pull the cord: losing your family is huge. It’s all you know, love that’s safe…Juliet isn’t a black and white or a small person; I love her ability to love other people despite their faults.”

Besides riding, Hughes’ other escape was reading. “That’s why I came to town for an English literature degree. I saw myself doing a PhD on courtly love and love letters” but academia turned out to be a lot more territorial, competitive and petty than she’d figured. By second year she was disillusioned. Love letters didn’t seems so romantic after all.

I stead, there was drama, scene study with actor Todd Waite, who recognized talent when he saw it, and told Hughes: “If you work like this for five years, you can be in theatre for a living. I thought, ‘OK, I can work hard.’ ”

In theatre the self-styled “square peg in a round hole,” the girl looking for “some place to belong,” would find her world.

Hughes fiercely defends even its ego-bashing cruelties. “It’s a hard profession, true. You can be hurt in so many ways,” she says of a line of work where vulnerability is an asset and caution isn’t. “I’m lucky to be part of a theatre community that pushes for better work, and isn’t afraid to step on toes to get it.”