Last Friday, I ventured to the other side of the world, or rather Tremont, to see Romeo and Juliet. My friend and I sat in lawn chairs eating sandwiches from Potbelly as we waited for the play to begin. I had noticed last year when I saw two comedies, Measure for Measure and Two Gentlemen from Verona that The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival is the perfect way to see comedies. This held true at A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I wondered, though, if the same would hold true for Romeo and Juliet.
The play had a bit of a stilted start. The production inserted the word “heights” into the Chorus prologue, and the fighting to start off the opening scene was awkward and bit boring.
Fortunately, this changed with Romeo’s appearance. Romeo was by far the best performance of the play. Indeed, the young actor played one of the best Romeo’s I have ever seen. There was something very open and honest in his performance, it was simple in the right way. He did what I previously thought impossible; he made me feel sorry for Romeo. More than that, he made me like Romeo.
I wish I could say the same about Juliet. Juliet’s performance, for my money, was wanting. The exuberance of young love was lacking in her performance. It may be difficult, at first glance, for young readers to gleam Juliet’s youthful giddiness from the text. While the language in Romeo and Juliet is inferior to the poetry of The Winter’s Tale The Tempest, and many other plays, it is still far grander and richer than everyday speech. (It was in 16th century England as well. This is poetry. The average London peasant did not speak exactly the way that Shakespeare writes.)
I would be remiss if I did not point out the shining part of Juliet’s performance. Before Juliet drinks the poison, she has a soliloquy detailing her fears and second thoughts about what she is about to do. I had not heard that soliloquy in many years and it is frequently cut in some productions. When she spoke the lines, I found myself visualizing the crypt in which Juliet would rest with Tybalt’s ghost rising up before her eyes. My friend called it “the good part of her performance.”
As for the others, there were some good performances, though none as stellar as Romeo. I particularly enjoyed the nurse and Mercutio. The actress who played Mercutio just finished performing Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and she brings much of the wit and charisma that she brought to Puck. Friar Laurence is a favorite character of mine (I consider the play Friar Laurence’s tragedy in many ways.) and the actor brought the sage of a mentor to the role, though at time he could not tap into the emotion that Friar Laurence feels at various points of the play.
There were a few complaints about the production. Most of all, the director never fully decided on Mercutio’s gender. In the play, Mercutio is a boy but Mercutio in the play was played by an actress. This does not bother me in any way. However, the actors referred to Mercutio as both “he” and “she.” This was incredibly distracting to me and such a silly oversight.
On the whole, this was still a moving production of Romeo and Juliet, in large part due to the actor who played Romeo. For the first time, I felt as though I was truly able to go on the journey with him, as actors would say. I felt for Romeo without judging him and genuinely mourned his death. This coming weekend is the last weekend of Cleveland Shakespeare Festival’s Romeo and Juliet, and I urge everyone to see this portrayal by a fine young local actor.
Oh, to end on a light note, I present Thug Notes summary and analysis of Romeo and Juliet.