It may seem an immodest thing to say about a mature, respectable 420-year-old play.
But Romeo and Juliet is hot stuff.
Hence, a balmy summer is the ideal season to see it in an outdoor setting... so much preferable to, say, having to watch A Winter’s Tale in the winter.
The tragic romance is full of passions both sexual and violent. In the Shakespeare in the Ruins tradition, audiences have to pick up and move their seats all over the Trappist Monastery in St. Norbert with every significant scene change, eight times in all.
If that seems a troublesome demand, be assured the actors in this production, directed by Heidi Malazdrewich, are expending a lot more energy participating, in the more common vernacular, in fighting, feuding and fooling around.
Running about two hours with an intermission, this production is done in contemporary dress and with contemporary tweaks.
For example, the poison-dealing apothecary (Ray Strachan) looks an awful lot like a street-level drug dealer. Romeo’s provocateur friend Mercutio (Alicia Johnston) is here a provocative woman.
Juliet’s nurse (Laura Olafson) looks a decided departure from the more matronly figure we’ve seen in past productions, but then even Friar Laurence, as played by Carson Nattrass, is endowed with a certain nature-loving sensuality.
In the Italian city of Verona, the focus is on the lovelorn Romeo (Kristian Jordan), a capricious lad who quickly forgets the object of his affection when he claps eyes on Juliet (Heather Russell). Unfortunately for him, she is a member of the Capulet family, sworn rivals to Romeo’s Montague clan. Nevertheless, Romeo swears his love, Juliet reciprocates, and the willing Friar Laurence agrees to marry them in secret, in an altruistic bid to stop the constant fighting between the families.
But when Romeo intervenes in a fatal battle between Mercutio and Juliet’s hot-blooded cousin Tybalt (also Nattrass), the stakes are raised as Romeo faces exile and Juliet opts to take desperate actions.
The opening night of the production got a boost from superb, near-sultry weather, and the green, natural surroundings. When Friar Laurence gives a lesson on the properties of some plants (and people), Nattrass really is getting his hands dirty in the earth of the monastery grounds. The famous balcony scene between the star-crossed lovers is staged in one of the big, empty windows of the monastery ruins, adding a certain physical immediacy to a familiar, much-performed scene.
The production enjoys the benefit of a few actors who take visible joy in the act of performance: Nattrass, Johnston, Olafson, Tracey Nepinak as Juliet’s mother, Lady Capulet, and Eric Blais as Juliet’s hapless would-be suitor Paris.
Alas, they tend to highlight a reticence in the performances of the titular lovers, when it is their passions that should be fiercest of all. Playing against other actors, Russell and Jordan do project the requisite youthful volatility of their characters. But when they’re together, the portrayal of passion is subverted by an unseemly reserve.
It is undoubtedly a tricky thing playing lovers who can barely keep their hands off each other. But it is also essential — especially in the event of a cloudy performance day when it will be necessary for the actors to provide the heat.
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