The Verona Project is an accessible Romeo and Juliet primer
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet adapted and directed by Evan Frayne. A Stone’s Throw production. At Pacific Theatre on Wednesday, June 29. Continues until July 2
The Verona Project is clearly a dish cooked up by a new chef; it contains both fresh tastes and lumpy bits.
Emerging director Evan Frayne has cut Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet down to a very swift two acts. Some choices in Frayne’s adaptation work: it’s moving to hear Juliet’s nurse remembering her charge’s early childhood just after discovering Juliet’s seemingly dead body, for instance. But other passages move so quickly that the story blurs: when Juliet discovers Romeo’s corpse, she dispatches herself with such efficiency and the show ends so suddenly that the audience barely gets a chance to register loss.
There are two lovely performances at the centre of this modern-dress mounting: Aslam Husain and Susan Coodin are winningly fresh as the titular couple. Both discover what they need to say, as opposed to reciting lines, which is no small feat. When Husain’s Romeo tells Juliet that he hopes for “The exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine”, his delivery is loaded with the same combustible combination of hesitation and yearning that ignites their first kiss. Coodin nails both Juliet’s innocence and her intelligence.
As Mack Gordon plays Romeo’s pal Mercutio, this guy would have been in his element at the hockey riot, mocking it and getting off on the mania. It’s a wild, unpretentious piece of work. Rhys Finnick effectively fills the rage of Juliet’s kinsman Tybalt, although, as fight director, Finnick makes a lengthy meal of things. Christopher Cook is solid as the decent, baffled Friar Laurence, the man who marries the teenage lovers.
There are significant holes in this youthful cast, however. Playing the Nurse, Maryanne Renzetti makes restrained dramatic choices in the second half, but her first-half comedy is over the top. Phil Miguel’s Benvolio is blank. Alison Chisholm is hesitant in a number of roles, and Kaitlin Williams makes predictable choices as Juliet’s mother, Lady Capulet.
Frayne’s direction is also hit-and-miss. In this telling of the story, Juliet struggles to unbuckle Romeo’s belt as she takes him to bed for the first time, making the moment sweetly earthy. But the staging of the ball at which they meet is unfocused. And for the most part, Frayne uses composer Mishelle Cuttler’s sentimental score abominably; that music contributes to the messiness of the ball and pours syrup over emotional moments that require no musical comment.
In Lauchlin Johnston’s simple, handsome set, a plinth becomes everything from Juliet’s balcony to her bed to her family mausoleum, depending on how it’s dressed.
If you’re looking for an accessible introduction to Romeo and Juliet, this production might satisfy. If you’re more familiar with the play, it will offer intermittent satisfaction.