Question-filled play offers few answers
A major part of the tragedy in Romeo and Juliet are the number of chances that the characters have to avoid their eventual deadly fate. If only the letter reached Romeo in time, if only the two lovers had a bit more worldly wisdom, if only their families saw the uselessness in their feud.
These “ifs” beg for a production like Jackie Gosselin and DynamO Théâtre’s What if Romeo and Juliet…, on this week at Young People’s Theatre, which deconstructs these moments and decisions that lead to the death of four young people, and offers alternatives.
At least that’s what the production says it tries to do, using the language of physical movement and acrobatics.
It begins with the four performers (Rosalie Dell’Aniello, Jérémie Earp, Agathe Foucault and Rémy Savard) splayed over a wreckage of bright red steel as the voice of Shakespeare (“I’m Will. Will Shakespeare”) describes how “these children have paid the price” for their families’ hate and anger.
As the platform revolves, the bodies come to life and stabilize the metal structures into two tall staircases on wheels. As they tumble across the stage and off the set, they also jump in and out of characters. “I’m Romeo,” “I’m Juliet,” “I’m Tybalt,” they proclaim.
They continue to flow in and out of the main suspects in Shakespeare’s story, which they break down into the main beats to fit into the show’s hour length, translating the action in between through more elaborate sections of physicality — cartwheels, flips, handstands, tall leaps off the top of the staircases — often repeating a similar refrain: I am love, I love you, I hate you.
Although there are some expressive moments of physicality — Juliet flies, propped up by her castmates, during the balcony scene, and a mimed swordfight between Mercutio and Tybalt benefits from heightened choreography with the bonus of live sound effects — the plot of the story plays out exactly as written.
Through solo monologues, the performers share their characters’ internal struggle with the animosity they carry, but it doesn’t change the moments that unfold on stage. In fact, even though the play has been shrunk to less than an hour, there feels like a lot of empty time, where repeated sequences or slowed action happens without a clear purpose.
It was amusing, if not that surprising, that one student responded to a talk-back question about why the cast chose to rotate between characters: “To make it more confusing?”
The production seems to require previous knowledge of the play but, at the same time, it doesn’t do very much to expand upon it. And, as it leans upon physical metaphors to enhance underlying themes, it doesn’t help young audiences decipher them. Even this critic had a hard time finding the questions the production attempts to ask.
It’s not until the story has concluded and the performers are again lifeless on stage that the voice of Shakespeare asks, “What if today, in this theatre, we let Romeo and Juliet leave together?”
But the production never attempts to answer that question — the lights dim, the actors bow, and we’re left asking, “So what?”
DynamO uses language of physical movement and acrobatics.