I’ve been told that a director’s favorite play constantly should evolve to be whatever he or she is currently working on. Having just fallen in love with the play, I felt like I was cruelly ripping it apart. Trimming down the monologues, cutting much of the comedy after act one, and making Romeo’s stay in Mantua seemingly last seconds sometimes felt a bit like torture for me and the long dead bard. What resulted was, however, what I found to be a fantastically interesting and apt version. From the stanchion we used to signify the balcony the script, this was a production that stripped away the excess, concentrated on the the essentials of the story, and brought the audience firmly along for the ride.
Romeo and Juliet begins as a comedy. The first scenes are decidedly hilarious and our audience seemed to be on board for a good time, even though that most of them knew it wasn’t going to end well for most of the characters they were laughing at or with in the beginning. Then, particularly with the absence of the foolish servants to continue the comedy, the tone changed to one of harsh realities, cruelty, and death. Romeo and Juliet is not a play of transitions. It is a play of harsh diametric changes. With my cut I hoped to highlight those moments where, as Capulet puts it in Act 4 Scene 5, “all things change them to the contrary.” The changes that happen during the course of the action of the play are unexpected and life-shattering, and the more I could get that across to the audience the better.
Another aspect of the play that I sought to emphasize with my cut was the runaway train nature of the plot. Verona at the start of the play is a tinderbox, threatening to blow but not quite lit. While the Friar’s warning “these violent delight have violent ends and in their triumph die, like fire and powder” proves prophetic, it is really his decision to marry Romeo and Juliet perhaps against his better judgement, that starts them down the path that leaves at least five important characters dead. The moment Romeo leaves the Church and comes outside to see Tybalt and Mercutio arguing, his and Juliet’s lives are not their own. Every plan they make goes wrong, and at berserk pace. From Mercutio’s death to Romeo’s entering Capulet’s monument their lives feel like they are controlled by the break-neck winds of fate. With my cut I sought to replicate that feeling in the audience, and with that to bring them into the sudden stillness of the tomb. It is the lives of Romeo and Juliet that are tragic, that they are thrown from long shot to long shot. Their deaths, finally, are a release of that tension, a tension I believe the fast paced nature of our production beautifully brought out.
Too often audience members will leave a production of Romeo and Juliet thinking ‘that’s nice, but I would never have been so wrapped up in it’ or thinking ‘why don’t they just stop and breath and think about their situation.’ One of the most important aspects of the play is that the characters do not get a moment to breathe for basically the entire five days that the plot actually takes place in. It is the impossibility of imagining a better future and the entire lack of control they feel over their lives that finally drives the title characters to their deaths. I believe that Mercury Glass’ production not only brought that out, but also gave the audience a taste of how it felt.
Most of all I hope that everybody who came to the show enjoyed themselves, thought about humanity a bit, and had a good Valentine’s Day weekend.
Philip Waller, Artistic Director