Actors pull off the near-impossible in United Players' Romeo and Juliet rethink, A Tender Thing

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      By Ben Power. Directed by Sarah Rodgers. A United Players of Vancouver Theatre Company production. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Friday, September 6. Continues until September 29

      A Tender Thing is a play that poses a massive challenge to its two actors: take the childish exhilaration and impulsivity of Romeo and Juliet, and temper them with the stable wisdom of old age.

      The good news is that Troy Skog and Denyse Wilson of the United Players pull this off—succeeding in essentially playing their roles in two opposing ways at once.

      Ben Power’s one-act play reworks text from Romeo and Juliet, plus some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, to craft a story of the famous lovers, who, instead of dying together in their youth, have had a long and happy life together and are now facing a more ordinary death.

      Skog and Wilson aren’t old or frail enough for this new kind of tragedy, but they do deliver on the emotion, Wilson especially. She retains Juliet’s bright childlike joy, which blends beautifully with her more mature, seasoned pain. It’s heartbreaking in all the right ways.

      Sarah Rodgers’s direction faces some hurdles in the first half of the script, which is mostly a greatest-hits compilation of the Bard’s most romantic sonnets and speeches from the original play. The characters reenact the famous balcony scene almost in its entirety, and it accidentally comes across as sad instead of romantic. It’s as if this couple are stuck in their past, which is clearly the opposite of what they intend.

      There are some clever moments, played sweetly—“when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang,” recites Juliet, indicating her blond hair, then Romeo’s bald head—but Rodgers makes it more purposeful in the second half, when Juliet’s illness sets in and the story picks up. This is where the show really gives the lovers new life, and lets Skog and Wilson deliver their very best.

      R. Todd Parker’s set design adds a nice touch—a minimalist white stage with just a few featureless shapes, complete with a light haze being pumped into the room, makes the space feel dreamlike and ethereal. The soft light (through yonder window) makes it feel welcoming, and adds to the bittersweet quality of the story.

      It all suggests a timeless space for this incarnation of Romeo and Juliet—and all things considered, they really do deserve it.