Ques­tion-filled play of­fers few an­swers

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - Carly Maga is a Toronto-based the­atre critic and a free­lance con­trib­u­tor for the Star. @Ra­dioMaga CARLY MAGA

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?”

GUY-CARL DUBÉ

Dy­namO uses lan­guage of phys­i­cal move­ment and ac­ro­bat­ics.

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