Romeo and Juliet is the most adapted work in Shakespeare’s canon and continues to be replicated through different mediums time and time again. And for a girl who lives for crazy adaptations of Shakespeare, I was completely and utterly in love with Stratford’s simple, “traditional,” and tragic Romeo and Juliet. Just when you think I’m gonna zig, I’m gonna zag.
It was a beautiful production directed by Scott Wentworth that was clear and emotionally moving and felt incredibly fresh. I put quotations around traditional because, despite its period appearance, the show had a buoyancy and a spirit that lived within the same realm as productions that adapt the show somehow, which made it feel modern. They even threw in some non-Shakespeare lines! The show gave the lead characters (played by Sara Farb and Antoine Yared) and the impact of their deaths respect rather than treating them as silly romantic children. Except when they were acting like children.
Both Farb and Yared were completely enchanting as the titular characters. Farb’s Juliet was exuberant and silly and a bit of quirky weirdo. I loved it. She would dance around the stage twirling her dress and her relationship with the Nurse (Seana McKenna) was so lovely. The two had great chemistry together and their scenes together were some of the most fun of the production. One highlight moment was the Nurse’s return from speaking with Romeo and refusing to give up the dirt on her conversation with him to Juliet. Juliet holds up pleasantries and even rubs her back for as long as she can before bursting out in temper tantrum because the Nurse isn’t giving her what she wants. The Nurse sends her away to go to church and Juliet begins sadly walking away but before she exits the Nurse informs her of her impending marriage to Romeo which will take place there. They erupt into joyful screams. It was pretty adorable.
The relationship to the Nurse also represents how Juliet’s arc transforms throughout the story. We can track the exact moment when Juliet is set on the path to becoming the tragic character she is known for. When Juliet hears of her family’s plan to marry her off to Paris, she turns to her confidant the Nurse for help. However, the Nurse gives her the advice to marry Paris and forget Romeo. Juliet, who sits in front of the Nurse’s lap, stares out blankly into the audience. She lies to the Nurse and agrees to marry Paris. The moment can summarize the helplessness and feeling of isolation that eventually leads to Juliet’s demise. Juliet is on her own and she does not tell the Nurse of her plan to run away with Romeo. When the Nurse discovers Juliet’s cold body, she really thinks she is dead. It was heartbreaking and the acting by both women was spectacular.
The other half of the tragic pair, Yared’s Romeo, was a great match to Farb’s Juliet. The axis of his world changes when Juliet removes her mask in front of him during the ball scene. The first conversation between the two of them is cute and innocent. Romeo flirts and Juliet coyly follows suit. And then they kiss. It is the kiss that moves mountains and suddenly the girl who was coyly flirting is a woman who wants to give herself to a man she barely knows. One of the most successful aspects of this production was the balance between Yared and Farb as children and adults. They would continue to teeter between their new adult perspectives and decisions, and their own lack of experience and knowledge.
There were two images I absolutely loved in this production. One took place during the famous balcony scene. Juliet was laying down on the balcony as she spoke down to Romeo who was reflected back at her laying down on the ground staring up. They were separated but it felt like they were laying on top of each other. The staging made it feel incredibly intimate. There was also a beautiful image created following the consummation of their relationship as Romeo escapes before morning. It is their final moment together. Juliet wraps a long rope around herself as Romeo holds the other end. The rope remains horizontal across the stage tying the two together despite the distance. Romeo scales down the wall away from Juliet and then the rope snaps back as he exits.
As we all know, the story ends in tragedy. Death follows them throughout their journey. This is beautifully articulated through the use of the chorus as a group of figures carrying the universe in their hands that would appear during critical moments of the play. It is a reminder of a larger and more sinister story at work. Romeo and Juliet is about more than the lovers. It is also about two sides unable to understand each other. The only thing that can unite the two warring families at the end is death. This production understood the pacing of this tragedy and never rushed to get to the most well-known scenes. And it also understood Romeo and Juliet is not solely a romance, but it is a tragedy. The final image remains the lovers lying dead beside each other as their families mourn.
Simple and straightforward, this production did not underestimate the story of Romeo and Juliet.