Similar to the papal youth to the south, my pilgrimage to Newmarket for a taste of the Resurgence Theatre Company’s artistry was driven by familiarity with the work (Shakespeare’s master social commentary Romeo and Juliet) and a keen desire to see it close up and outdoors. I came away fully satisfied and eager to return for a second helping.
Performing and observing on a hot muggy matinée was a considerable challenge for all concerned. But, to a person, Sunday’s audience remained attentive, engaged and forgiving (it seemed the entire rolling stock of CN rail rumbled and tooted by Fairy Lake Park, determined to get in on the act); happily, the large number of children perched on the slightly padded benches of the tent-covered theatre caused no more unscripted interruptions than their elders. Families take note: this is an outing for all!
Rick Hyslop’s compelling violin mastery provided the overture in a Pied Piper fashion as he, the personification of "A Wandering Minstrel I," toured the far-off “river banks” but could be heard by all (although one more notch of volume would have confirmed his intentional participation much sooner) as his modular wanderings set the stage. As compelling as this was, the constant, unscripted musical commentary became more of an annoyance than tactical reinforcement and its largely improvisational offerings were often out of place with the rhythmical and lyrical structure of the text. Later, drums added little to the drama.
Acts I & II flew by with a flow and sense of direction that would prove harder to sustain as the humidity took its toll, particularly after intermission. Director Chris Abraham has fashioned a production that takes good advantage of the extra dimension of the outdoors. Vin Bolton and James Cameron’s fine rendering of a Verona square was first rate.
If Todd Campbell’s first fight scene was a bit short on danger, the rowdy enthusiasm of the combatants carried the point. The back-stories were all delivered seamlessly, moving us in no time to Capulet’s banquet.
But along the way I became a tad frustrated with some of Abraham’s added business and comedic bent. The groin grabbing, size references and near bare-ass reveller served on a silver tray all got laughs, but in the end, when such gestures come from the Montague side (particularly Mercutio who, as played by Andrew Pifko, effortlessly delivered all he was asked), their low level seemed quite at odds with Shakespeare’s brilliant puns (the consort line never fails to bring tears to my eyes) and hints of madness. Had those crudities been confined to members of the much more insecure Capulet house, the difference between them would have more subtly underlined.
The title characters must carry the show and convince all of their sudden passion and unequivocal devotion. As Romeo, Matthew Fyfe has the looks, wonderful voice and physical stamina to deliver the part adequately. But to take us over the top and share his desperation, he needs to find a larger emotional palette from which to shade his feelings. The metamorphosis from carefree boy to passionate lover and protector fell short; too often his declamations seemed to be more at Juliet than for her.
Michelle Monteith made a lovely, feisty heroine, but would benefit from reacting to the lines around her as she hears them (e.g., Friar Lawrence’s solution to her dilemma) rather than realizing their impact only as she her next speech begins.
In the end, both Romeo and Juliet looked their roles but came across more as brother and sister than enflamed lovers. While it is a family show, perhaps a bit more than two undone shirt buttons as he appears from his consummation bed would help us believe that their union has been consummated.
So it was left to the troupe’s veterans to keep things moving—and they did!
If Lynne Griffin’s energy as the mostly faithful Nurse could be harnessed, we would have no need for Hydro One. Her comic timing and reactions were spot on. She never came out flat, even as she must have near-expired in her multi-layered garb. The long-suffering (but actually more confused than a 28-year-old would care to admit) mother was played with a touch of ice by Irene Poole that was welcome relief.
But it was the trio of “dads” who provided the most dependable, savvy offerings of the uncut three-hour performance. Christopher Kelk’s Friar Lawrence was more than a fair portrayal of many priests in today’s church: kindhearted, understanding and warm, yet too far removed from reality to prevent disasters from occurring. The head of the Montague’s, as given us by Rod Ceballos, was a controlled study in understatement and grief, providing a dramatic anchor for his colleagues.
As the Prince of Verona, Adrian Churchill ruled with compelling authority and carriage, even though—like so many parts of the world today—his commands to cease the carnage fell on deaf ears. Nonetheless, it was Derek Boyes’ Capulet that stole the show. His rage at losing the ticket (via marriage to Joel Cottingham’s ever-so-earnest Paris) to a higher social circle, demonstrating how little value Juliet actually had to him, was red hot: All was revealed. Then his oh-so-telling zinger-stare at Montague (think Salieri looking at a Mozart score), when the realization of yet another failure had sunk in, provided the best chilling truth of the day.
The Resurgence Theatre Company’s 2002 Shakespeare Festival is an artistic asset of considerable value to the citizens of York Region and beyond. To produce, at affordable cost, and perform such a high-level production on one of the most uncomfortable days of the summer makes the push towards a Newmarket Arts Centre a top priority—don’t let this degree of excellence and commitment disappear into the night. JWR