Romeo and Juliet

What delight through yonder window...
Edmonton Sun

EDMONTON -- Director Tom Wood doesn't waste any time getting right down to it.

He has said he sees Romeo and Juliet as being as much about death as love, and so we find ourselves in the middle of a dark-hued, mist-drenched, slow-motion melee as the hot-blooded members of two local gangs - the Capulets and the Montagues - are savagely attacking each other.

The lights come up and Michael Becker's excellent movie-like score swells and the action springs into life. It's not a pretty sight. There is screaming, blood and pain. The fights are balletic (fight director Paul Gelineau), but their lethal intent is unsettlingly obvious.

So begins theatre's most enduring love story.

Wood's production doesn't assume that Romeo and Juliet is timeless but sets out to prove it.

As Wood sees it, the young lovers are products of an inhospitable and violent world, which makes their love all that more achingly resilient. The production certainly follows his vision, but it tends to shortchange some of the relationships - particularly Paul Cowling's Capulet. If there is a lovable side to this man we don't see it. He always seems to be on the verge of striking out, even as he tries to quiet that loose cannon Tybalt (Steve Pirot), who sees Romeo at a Capulet party and wants to eviscerate him on the spot.

Ashley Wright's Friar Laurence is earnest and ineffectual but more of a plot device. There is little feeling that here is a man with a genuine regard for Romeo and a developing fondness for the young lovers.

Jan Alexandra Smith's Lady Capulet is regal and distant but comes devastatingly apart in one of the play's most affecting moments as father, mother and nurse (Maralyn Ryan) scream out their primal pain around the (supposed) corpse of Juliet.

The evening is filled with powerhouse performances. No local actor can project white-knuckle intensity like Pirot, whose Tybalt is a variation on Wayne, his psycho killer in last year's Popcorn. Ryan carries off the prattling, dotty nurse with comic skill.

As for Romeo (Brian Marler) and Juliet (Tara Hughes), they are certainly young, fresh, passionate and charming. It takes a while to get into what Marler is doing, but Shakespeare doesn't help much by painting him as a self-oriented, brooding young man who fancies himself in love with a local belle. Hughes plays Juliet as a bright-eyed, impatient young teen.

Alive, demure, her emotions spill out with impetuous innocence.

I was considerably bothered by the approach the director took to his young stars. You can see that he was reaching for the ardor and passion of youth, but he has directed them to emote at the top of their range. Particularly in Act II, their major dialogues start at such a high pitch that it leaves them with little room to go anywhere.

Wood lowers the volume and intensity for the final death scene, and the gravity and power of the play again work their magic. It's a powerful vision, tapping in, as it does, to young people's fascination with rebellion and romantic youthful martyrdom. Most of the time it works and, when it does, we are rewarded with powerful and gripping theatre.

Romeo and Juliet runs in the Maclab Theatre at the Citadel through April 29.