BWW Review: A Sublime Production of ROMEO AND JULIET is on Stage at the Stratford Festival

ROMEO AND JULIET opened at the Stratford Festival on Thursday night. Director, Scott Wentworth's production takes the Festival Theatre stage by storm and is captivating from start to finish. This is the third production of ROMEO AND JULIET that this reviewer has had the privilege of seeing at the Festival, and it is without a doubt, my favourite.

As the Star-Crossed lovers, Antoine Yared and Sara Farb interpret these iconic roles with a freshness and aptitude that allows them to reflect the nuanced complexities of the mind of an adolescent in what feels to be a truly authentic way. The undeniable comfort and chemistry between the two makes them incredibly likeable as a couple. It makes it all the more tragic and effective that these two performers are able to make the audience immediately root for them, despite already being well aware of the lovers' fate. Just as many of Shakespeare's lines in this play are filled with oxymoron ("heavy lightness", "sick health", "sweet sorrow") Yared and Farb's Romeo and Juliet both fluctuate between childhood and adulthood, foresight and naiveté, just as any adolescent would. The tragedy is that the stakes are high, the decisions are rash, and many of the adults in their world are acting as immaturely as they are.

Farb's Juliet alternates between grace and strength, and innocence and petulance...all in one monologue...and she never loses any likability while doing it. From her physicality to her tone of voice, Farb fully embodies a smart young girl who knows she is on the brink of womanhood but when caught off guard or overly emotional, will revert back to the thirteen year old she truly is. Audience members will surely see themselves, or the young people in their lives in this Juliet. In addition to Ms. Farb's chemistry with Mr. Yared's Romeo, Juliet and her Nurse, played by the brilliant Seana McKenna also share a compelling and dynamic relationship.

Yared's Romeo is so genuine and pure when describing his love for Rosaline and then for Juliet. Sure, his love is initially childish and fleeting, but it is clear that to him it is very real and when those around him do not take him seriously, we see him almost double down on this love as a way to prove to himself that there is nothing fleeting about it this time. There is a gentleness to the poetic Romeo until suddenly there isn't, and he has done irreparable damage by killing Tybalt (played with an effective, animalistic quality by Zlatomir Moldovanski). This occurs after Tybalt kills Romeo's friend Mercutio-always an audience favourite and played here with a delicious obnoxiousness and wit by Evan Buliung. This event sends Romeo into a tailspin as he cries at the feet of Friar Lawrence (Wayne Best) when he learns that he will be banished for his crime.

Friar Lawrence delivers the line that is perhaps the most important message of this play. "Be patient, for the world is broad and wide". Romeo listens to the Friar, but he does not hear him. His adolescent brain is unable to process this wisdom. He cannot see beyond the walls of the world he knows, and they are rapidly crumbling down. The same is true for Juliet, who convinces the Friar to give her a sleeping potion by threatening suicide. Mr. Best's performance as the Friar is exceptional. He brings wisdom and humour to his scenes with each of the young lovers as they continue to frustrate and baffle him with their pure, but misguided passion. The Friar is a voice of reason, heard loud and clear by the audience, but falling upon deaf ears to the other characters.

As the play marches towards its devastating conclusion, the gloom and foreshadowing is ever present-not just in the words uttered, but also in the lighting and set design by Louise Guinand and Christina Poddubiuk respectively. There is a seemingly ever-present tomb on the stage. It disappears occasionally, but returns quickly, sometimes as a piece of furniture. It is a sad wink to the audience of what is to come. Shadows and minimal lighting during each of the young lovers' contemplative moments also portray a sense of impending doom.

The Set Design by Ms. Poddubiuk is stunning-A broad wooden balcony, with stairs on each side and pillars coming down from it in The Shadows of the stage, along with the aforementioned tomb. Everything is more or less the same dark brown colour, making for a simple, yet functional environment for the players. The supporting members of the company-pages officers, party guests, and servers add to the setting effectively.

In a 'behind the scenes' rehearsal video made available by the Stratford Festival, Director Scott Wentworth comments on how at the end of the play, "Shakespeare is leaving us with an image of a society that has destroyed its own future" and how relevant this continues to be to the concerns of today's society. This was very poignant, and very much felt in the final scenes as we see the Montagues (Jim Codrington and Kim Horsman) and Capulets (Randy Hughson and Marion Adler) discover their dead son and daughter.

What makes this Shakespearean tragedy oh so tragic is that so much of the devastation is unnecessary and yet the protagonists just do not have the ability to see that. As familiar as this play is to so many people, it never ceases to be moving and relatable.

ROMEO AND JULIET continues in repertory at the Festival Theatre until October 21st.

Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

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