Romeo and Juliet
1993: Norman Campbell
This Canadian production of Romeo and Juliet starring Megan Follows (of Anne of Green Gables fame) is set in a period loosely evocative of 1900-1920. Why? There’s no particular reason I can discern. It has a certain loosely universal sense about it, however. That aside, the presentation is fairly straightforward, the acting generally quite good, and the pacing sensible. Follows is quite extraordinary, and very engaging, and almost makes Juliet’s nearly-instantaneous falling-in-love credible; Cimolino’s Romeo seems to me a bit of whiner and a wimp, and toward the end one wonders whether he feels sorry for anyone but himself. In any case, it’s a film of a stage production on a small thrust stage — more like Shakespeare’s own theater than one is likely to find most other places. The video is complete with views of the audience, and their reactions become a part of the vicarious theatrical experience.
The most noteworthy (and, I think, enlightening) strategic decision in the production is its ongoing emphasis on the comedic element in the play. This may well seem counter-intuitive: after all, the play is supposed to be a tragedy. But part of Shakespeare’s genius is in realizing that tragedy will not grow best in purely tragic soil: the mixture of opposites is more effective at engaging the audience. If one reads carefully, too, I think it is clear that there is a lot of comedy along the way in Romeo and Juliet. Much of what makes the leading characters appealing is built up not from a throroughgoing sense of their impending doom, but through sympathy, and comedy is one of the best paths to sympathy.
There are two principal veins of comedy to be mined here: first, Shakespeare produced in this play two of his finest and richest comedic characters — Mercutio and the Nurse; second, the situational comedy of the two young lovers, can be either ignored or flaunted. Ignoring it produces a much flatter play. This production makes it pivotal. In the long run, this tends to whet the tragic edge more effectively than all the moping actors in the world, much as the early scenes of whimsy sharpen the end of Puccini’s La Boheme. That Shakespeare appreciated this tricky balance of laughter and grief is shown by the fact that his other version of the same story: “Pyramus and Thisbe” appears as a play-within-a-play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it is in fact played almost entirely for laughs there in all productions I have seen but one.
One concomitant, however, needs to be mentioned in this context: much of the comic development (especially in respect to Mercutio), tends toward the suggestive and bawdy. Those with a low tolerance for this kind of thing will probably find several scenes a bit uncomfortable. There is nothing exceedingly graphic about it, however.
Benvolio: Paul Miller
Capulet: Lewis Gordon
Friar Lawrence: Bernard Hopkins
Juliet: Megan Follows
Lady Capulet: Kate Trotter
Lady Montague: Mary Hitch Blendick
Mercutio: Colm Feore
Montague: Tan White
Nurse: Barbara Bryne
Paris’ Page: Jeffrey Kuhn
Paris: Mervon Mehta
Prince of Verona: Tim MacDonald
Romeo: Antoni Cimolino
Tybalt: Lorne Kennedy