Passion is all well and good, but too much of it wears pretty thin pretty fast. And too much is the central problem with David Whiteley’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s much-loved Romeo and Juliet.
Taking a cue from Peter Sellars’s chamber play version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream mounted at Stratford in 2014, Whiteley, who also directs, has boiled the tragic tale of young love and feuding families down to 80 minutes. For the most part, he’s cherry picked the play’s most intense moments – for example, falling in love, dust ups, and death scenes – and further distilled the play by using only four actors. The action takes place on a bare stage surrounded by white fabric, the stark minimalism of the set presumably meant to further focus our attention on the play’s emotional high points (Whiteley credits much of the set design to The Night Room by Winnipeg’s now-defunct Primus Theatre).
The problem is, with the connecting tissue between all those intense moments largely stripped out, the show feels like a synopsis set at a high boil. The storyline is well enough known that one can follow along, but what we see and hear are parts of a whole which signal too clearly that they are just parts.
There are other issues.
David daCosta is Romeo. His is not an overly nuanced depiction, his words failing to reach much beyond lines memorized. Just what draws Juliet to this moody young man is hard to say.
Mekdes Teshome plays Juliet. This past summer Teshome caught our eye with her lovely movement in A Company of Fools’s The Amazing Adventures of Pericles: Prince of Tyre. Here she’s lively and expressive as a young woman discovering love and passion, but Whiteley hasn’t reined in her tendency to overact. Her enunciation is also hit-and-miss.
Robin Hodge and Lawrence Evenchick are the other two actors, each playing multiple roles. Hodge’s characters include a credible Lady Capulet, while Evenchick – the ablest actor in this production – plays Mercutio and others, handling Mercutio’s Queen Mab piece in particular with vigour.
The show has an unfinished quality, the result of chopping the original into smaller, digestible bits and then trying to link those bits together. Maybe some things, including Romeo and Juliet, are best left as is.
Romeo and Juliet Redux continues until Oct. 15 at The Gladstone.
Adaptation, direction and set: David Whiteley
Cast: David daCosta, Mekdes Teshome, Robin Hodge, Lawrence Evenchick
Soundscape: Scottie Irving
Lighting: Laura Wheeler