BWW Reviews: Romeo and Juliet The Current Traffic of The Arden's Stage
The Arden has staged a delightful, modern production of Romeo and Juliet, reminding us that though Shakespeare may seem a thing of the past its lessons about loyalty, family, violence, youth, and love still ring true.
Director Matt Pfeiffer's modernization is highly successful, but especially in the scenes between Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio. Their conversations seem incredibly natural, while the intonations convey a sense that these scenes (though perhaps not the exact words) could be heard on the street today. The show also capitalizes on the raunchier, bawdier moments in the script, making even the simplest thing sexual. This mixed with the inflection and gestures of the boys adds to the sense that these are typical boys that could easily fit in our era.
Evan Jonigkeit as Romeo steals the show. His dramatic arc from foolish lovelorn boy to joyous husband, and finally to grieving lover is well acted to say the least. The audience truly follows his transition, laughing at his folly, reveling in his happiness, and despairing with him when he drinks the poison. He has a true knack for pacing, comedic timing, diction, and ease with making the language appear modern. Jonigkeit shines so strongly, that Juliet, as played by Mahira Kakkar is pale in comparison.
Other humorous scene-stealers include Shawn Fagan (Mercutio), James William Ijames (Benvolio), Friar Laurence (Anthony Lawton), and Nurse (Suzanne O'Donnell). Frank X also provides a hilarious scene as Peter, the Capulet's servant, and shows a very different side when he doubles as Lord Montague. The first act speeds by due to the actors finding the humor in the writing. It should also be noted that Lawton's performance as the confessor and helper to the couple is incredibly dynamic, adding a fresh level of humanity to Father Laurence's character.
The cuts to the script are well justified but what is most clever is the interposing of scenes of the Arden's Act II, presenting what befalls Romeo and Juliet simultaneously. Spot on light cues and the levels of the set help this quick switching between locations. The lighting, designed by Thom Weaver, is brilliant throughout the show, clearly conveying mood and helping to distinguish between standard speeches and asides. Brian Sidney Bembridge's set is very simple, reminiscent in basic structure of the Globe. The wood and metal structure provides two levels, not just allowing for the balcony scenes but also a great dynamic in the mixed scenes of Act II. Sound Designer/Composer James Sugg's modern music adds to the texture of the piece. Perhaps the stand out technical element of the show is the Fight Direction by Dale Anthony Girard that leaves the audience on the edge of their seats waiting for the next quarrel to break out.
We all know what happens in this tale of star-crossed lovers, but the Arden's new production provides for a different experience. As always the tragedy here is not simply in the lover's death but in the fact that their families could not put aside a feud until they saw true love's dedication and ultimate sacrifice. The modernization makes the morals hit closer to home, while the heightened comedy of the first act, makes the tone of the second act that much darker and the ending all the more tragic. The audience is reminded that while hate may be the easier route, it is love that is more rewarding after all the struggle.