Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Where’s the Passion? Shakes’ "R&J" falls flat

Romeo and Juliet (John Ulman)
Romeo and Juliet
Seattle Shakespeare Company
Through May 22, 2016

So here are some good aspects of Seattle Shakespeare Company’s current production of Romeo and Juliet: the actors clearly know what they’re saying. This is a really good thing, because there are some unfortunate productions where the actors don’t appear to understand Shakespeare enough to know what their lines mean.

The music is wonderful. It is composed by rising star, Justin Huertas, and performed live by him and a few others. It’s kind of cool to have movie-atmospheric-music played live in the room.

There are aspects of the set (Craig Wollam) and lighting (Tim Wratten) that work really, really well (even though the set is so spare, but there are techniques like tying a bed to a bower to move it that are really keen).

There are a few cast members that really work their roles, notably Mike Dooly as Lord Capulet, who knows how to roar in anger when called upon; Treavor Boykin as Tybalt, who sneers with the best; and much of what Trevor Young Marston does as Mercutio, though his death scene is not nearly as funny as it could be.

Unfortunately, there is not much else to celebrate about this lackluster presentation. It is actually quite distressing to say so. There are many other cast members that are good actors who somehow do not combine to elevate the show. For instances, Anastasia Higham is a very good young actor. The role of Juliet is one that should be comfortably in her range – yet somehow there is virtually no chemistry between her and Riley Neldam as Romeo. Neldam doesn’t do a bad job, either. It’s not quite that.

The biggest issue for the whole production is there is virtually no PASSION in it. No one takes even a moment to feel his or her feelings. The longevity of this particular Shakespeare play is partly because everyone can still understand the thunderbolt of new love, the passion of young teens, the drama of breaking rules, and the “till death do us part.”

Director Vanessa Miller overlays a “concept” on the production that doesn’t really add, but is almost beside the point if you don’t have a solid production underneath. The play is performed on the stage at Cornish Playhouse. 280 seats are set up in two lines of 140 each, with the playing area in the middle. It is supposed to be a kind of tennis match, with ethereal beings she has inserted, called Fate (George Mount) and Dream (Justin Huertas), supposedly interfering with the humans.

That concept has some historically accurate basis in Shakespeare, both in his time, where the program notes that people believed differently about dreams than we do now, and also Shakespeare often included supernatural elements in many of his plays. Though not in this one. This play does have some magic in it – magic potions that make one look dead when you aren’t; the magic of falling in love instantly.

Inserting these characters and concept is not clear and in no way helps us understand why anything is happening. If that was the intention, then it simply didn’t work. The beginning and end of the play, where the actors enter as if in some modern prison dream and then are freed, might be part of the overlay, but again, outside of a solid concept inside the play, they don’t add, only confuse.

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