The woeful tale of Romeo and Juliet is one of William Shakespeare’s most well known plays. He wrote it in ten days, four-hundred-and-twenty-one-years-ago. Since then it’s been turned into somewhere in the neighbourhood of thirty movies and produced on countless stages all across the world. The timeless tale now makes its way to the town of Prescott as part of the St. Lawrence Shakespeare festival.
Does anybody not know the story of Romeo and Juliet? (Do they still teach it as part of the high school English curriculum?) A brief primer just in case:
In fair Verona live two families at war. These are the Montagues and the Capulets. The play starts with a brawl between family members resulting in a princely decree for Montague and Capulet to get their shit together. If there are any more of these shenanigans in the streets, the perpetrators will be put to death.
Romeo is a Montague. Juliet is a Capulet. The two meet and instantly fall in love when Romeo crashes a Capulet party (in disguise). They get married. Things quickly spiral out of control after that.
I am a fan of Romeo & Juliet, owning at least two movie versions, but I realized as this play got under way that it was the first time I had ever seen it live. Seeing a quality and professional staging of this classic work is an experience I highly recommend. And you should absolutely consider doing so in Prescott for the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival.
Aside from the love story, which is what everybody talks about, the play’s exploration of love versus hate and prejudice and of youthful recklessness versus aged wisdom are timeless and continue to be relevant touchstones in our cultural consciousness. They’re things we all understand.
It’s also got some of the best dialogue and poetic language in all of English literature. From parting is such sweet sorrow, to a rose by any other name. I guarantee you’ve quoted or paraphrased something from Romeo & Juliet at some point, maybe without even knowing it.
Specifically, the cast of this production at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival pretty much knocks it out of the park. Capulet, played by Richard Sheridan Willis, has a hella powerful presence on stage. When he unleashed his anger on Juliet, even I was terrified. Quincy Armorer brought a fiercely burning loathing to bear as Tybalt, The Prince of Cats. Jamie Cavanagh’s Mercutio had a brilliant understated bombast and kinetic frenzy in his every scene. And if you know the show, you know that Mercutio has some big moments to hit in his few scenes.
And Rose Napoli is pretty much the most adorable Juliet ever (and I say this as a huge Claire Danes fan). She perfectly captured the essence of an exuberant fourteen year old girl, and conveyed the reckless emotion of youth to make Juliet’s actions the most believable they may ever have been.
I will say that Jesse Griffith’s Romeo was a bit quick-tempered and aggressive-seeming for my liking. The acting chops were certainly there, as a choice it just felt unbalanced against Juliet’s youthful exuberance and left the chemistry between them a bit flat. (Although I did recently read an article that suggests Romeo is in fact the antagonist in Romeo and Juliet, so maybe that was the direction they wanted to explore.)
The list goes on, of course. Pierre Brault’s good-intentioned Friar Lawrence, Jonathan Gould’s noble Prince, Alice Snaden as Balthazar, the harbringer of doom. All a treat to watch on stage.
The St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival’s decision to set the play in the 1950s – because it was the last era in which children remained fairly subservient to their parents’ control of their future – didn’t add much aside from interesting window dressing. Except for some pretty cool fight choreography with knives that, while blunted I’m sure, still had me worried for the actors’ safety.
And, if you really needed another reason, head out to Prescott and you’ll get to see Romero & Juliet outdoors, in the lovely Kinsmen Ampitheatre right on the banks of the beautiful St. Lawrence river. There’s also lighthouse ice cream, which as we all know is the best ice cream.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to hear what you think? How did you find Romeo? The climactic double duel at the end of act one, did it do it for you? Join the discussion in the comments below and tell me what you think.
Romeo and Juliet runs now through August 22 along with the Comedy of Errors (told as a musical) as part of the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival. stlawrenceshakespeare.ca/