Saturday, June 11, 2016

Why must I be a teenager in love?

Smokin’ hot R&J at Bard
by Christopher Key

“Hormonal” was the word that kept popping up on my inner screen as I watched opening night of Romeo and Juliet at Vancouver, BC’s, Bard on the Beach.  This is a very good thing.  Too many directors forget that the star-crossed lovers are teenagers and full of what people used to refer to as “juices.”  Those metabolic demons are what powers puberty and lead young people into making oft-disastrous decisions.

Kim Collier is not afraid to unleash those demons onstage and the result will make your hair, among other things, stand on end.  Quite frankly, R & J has never been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.  This production raised it several notches in my estimation because all of the elements come together in a way that is truly synergistic.  That’s why the techies get first billing.

I’m not sure why Pam Johnson’s set, reminiscent of Soviet brutalist architecture, works so well in the context of romantic Verona, but it does.  Nancy Bryant’s sensuous costumes are a complete contrast and maybe that’s what modifies the harshness of the set.  Certainly Brian Linds’ sound design is essential to the mood.  Ranging from raw percussion to electronica to industrial rock, the soundtrack grabs you by the short ‘n curlies and never lets go.

Photo credit - David Blue

Vancouver native Andrew Chown delivers a Romeo that gives new meaning to the phrase “testosterone poisoning.”  His acting chops are solid, but it’s his athleticism that will astound you.  Whether it’s a prodigious leap toward Juliet’s balcony or a running handstand against a wall, Chown forcibly reminds us of the male persuasion how much fun it is (was?) to show off for a girl.  Not to mention the accompanying adrenaline rush from doing something really stupid.

Photo credit - David Blue

Hailey Gillis’ Juliet is eminently worth showing off for.  There’s a theatrical axiom claiming that by the time an actor is capable of portraying Juliet, she’s too old to look the part.  Gillis puts the lie to it by thoroughly capturing the giddiness of estrogen poisoning while giving a mature performance.  R & J is all about such contradictions.

Romeo’s homies, Mercutio and Benvolio, are played by Bard vets Andrew McNee and Ben Elliott with the adolescent edginess that defines this production.  Their fight scenes with Tybalt and his Capulet cronies are frighteningly authentic, for which we can thank Fight Director David McCormick.  Anton Lipovetsky portrays Tybalt with a sneering sense of entitlement reminiscent of certain political figures.  You’ll want to run him through as much as Romeo does.

The Nurse is one of those Bardish characters that can run away with the show if played well.  Bard fave Jennifer Lines plays the role in this version and I really don’t need to say much more than that, do I?  How about bawdy, bumptious and brilliant?

Another Bard fixture, Scott Bellis, plays Friar Laurence with a hip sensibility reminiscent of a Doonesbury character.  The massive headphones are a delightful touch. 
As always at Bard, the supporting cast is bulletproof (if not swordproof) and that’s all of a piece when the whole becomes greater than its parts.

It really doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen Romeo and Juliet and all its spinoffs.  This production will give you a fresh perspective on the old story and that’s what Bard on the Beach does best.

R & J performs in repertory with The Merry Wives of Windsor on the BMO Mainstage through September 23.  For showtimes, see the Bard on the Beach website.  You can purchase tickets there, as well.

Do keep in mind that it is Junuary and dress accordingly.

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