To Cut or Not to Cut, This Is The Question!
With the biting of thumbs and the slashing of blades, the timeless Romeo and Juliet kicked off the 16th Annual Hawaii Shakespeare Festival. Hosted in the intimate theatre of The ARTS at Mark’s Garage, there was plenty of cutting present on opening night. The onstage cutting was abundant in Tony Pisculli’s well-choreographed swordfights, as well as the fatefully timed dagger strikes at the climax of the play. Surprisingly, some of the cutting took place behind the scenes, as parts of the play never made it to the stage. Director Rob Duval’s modern take on the classic tale clocked in at less than two hours.
A quick refresher on the tragic story of star-crossed lovers is easily summarized. The Montagues and Capulets, two well-heeled families in the city of Verona, are figuratively and literally at each other’s throats. After a brawling swordfight that nearly ends in bloodshed, The Prince (Andrew Chow) decrees the next breaking of the peace shall result in the forfeiture of lives, a clever bit of foreshadowing for which Shakespeare is well-known and well skilled. Romeo (Ari Dalbert), of the Montague family, spies Juliet (Alisa Boland) at a ball hosted by her father and Lady Capulet—and is smitten, as is Juliet in her turn when she sees him—even though she is betrothed to the preening Paris (Carson Morneau). The lovers unite on Juliet’s balcony in one of theatre’s most famous soliloquies and romantic scenes leading to a secret marriage, the violent realization of the Prince’s portent, and a heavy body count by the end of the play.
There were several great performances on the stage. The Nurse (Sharon Garcia Doyle) and Dalbert both excelled in their ability to realize the power of the Shakespearean language, both in dialogue and in their characters’ actions onstage. Garcia Doyle captured her role as the true caretaker and ‘mother’ of Juliet. Dalbert used the rhythms of Shakespeare’s words to clever effect—for example, his concealment of a behavior (his attraction to Juliet during their conversations at the balcony) in order to convey a new behavior (the respectful nature of his love towards Juliet) demonstrated his understanding of the urgency of Romeo’s proposal of matrimony towards Juliet.
The makings of a good production engage more than successful acting. A successful play requires the director to have a conversation with the text, with the written play, and to clearly realize the vision onstage. The written text of Romeo and Juliet is, in fact, the living document for the existence of this production. And when discussing Shakespeare’s language, the script is not just a collaborator but a significant character in the production. In the playbill, Duval indicates in the director’s notes that “I didn’t want anything to distract from Shakespeare’s exquisite language…” yet he, or someone else, took upon himself the authority to significantly edit and to cut the script down from its full length. As a playwright, I find this assumption of authority troubling. Should a director take it upon himself (or herself) to manipulate the playwright’s vision—Shakespeare or otherwise? In taking the knife to Romeo and Juliet, something has been lost from the voice of the play itself. Audience members who are not familiar with Romeo and Juliet might not notice the changes; for spectators who know the play well, the omissions may come across as jarring. One aspect of a loss of clarity might be seen in the modern dress of all the characters in the play. The costuming was well chosen for several of the characters, especially Juliet, Capulet (Troy Apostol) and Montague (Duval)…but it was difficult at the beginning of the play to understand who was a Montague and who was a Capulet, despite the presence of small gold “M”s and “C”s on some of the outfits—many others didn’t bear these brands, and a nod towards the families’ tribalism (in dress, color, pattern or other clues) would more effectively ground the audience early in the play.
The selection of Romeo and Juliet to launch the Festival was a great choice. It is an important play, well presented by a large cast. Catch the play at the ARTS at Mark’s Garage through July 23…and if you want to really get into the play, be sure to sit in the front row. You won’t regret it!
Written by Tali Ariav, a Staff Reviewer for Hitting The Stage.