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Romeo and Juliet 

Review by Sean McQuaid 

Your incurable romantic—well, certainly an incurable something, anyway—has enjoyed William Shakespeare’s iconic 16th Century tragedy Romeo and Juliet since well-meaning educators first thrust it upon me decades ago. It may be flowery, melodramatic and occasionally implausible, but it boasts several unforgettable characters, a genuinely touching love story and some indelibly artful text.  

The play’s recent Vagabond Productions run also boasted other alluring curiosities. One was director/producer Greg Doran shifting the story’s titular doomed lovers from 16th Century Italy to late 20th Century Ireland at the end of “The Troubles.” The other unique draw was the show’s unconventional venue, the chapel at stately nursing home the Mount, formerly Mount St. Mary's Convent. Suitably intrigued, I decided to get me to a nunnery. 

The results were decidedly mixed. It’s always a great play (even abbreviated as it is here), but this is seldom a great production. The Mount’s cavernous chapel space, imposingly large yet aesthetically generic at the same time, adds scant colour and the company does little to dress it up. Doran’s varied and dynamic blocking uses the floor space well, sending actors up and down the aisles and situating action all around the audience, but the chapel’s echo chamber acoustics dog the cast. Robert Crossley’s booming Prince, for instance, has an often unintelligibly big sound, while quieter players such as Erin Mazor’s Nurse and Heather Parry’s Lady Capulet drift in and out of audibility, intermittently swallowed up by the space. 

The Irish setting turns out to be a shrug-worthy asterisk, adding little apart from replacing “Verona” with “Belfast” in the dialogue and using guns instead of swords; and the mostly unremarkable modern plainclothes costumes get randomly weird in spots. T. Noah J. Nazim’s dapper Friar Laurence looks more like a stage magician than a clergyman (give or take one rosary), and Mazor’s inexplicably overalls-clad, stripey-tights Nurse seems little more than a clown nose away from The Big Comfy Couch

The cast as a whole tend to rush through their lines a bit too quickly, though the pacing smoothes out pleasingly in spots. Dylan Gaudet and Kassinda Bulger make for a genuinely youthful, often appealing Romeo and Juliet, the former all boyish Richie Cunnigham charm and the latter a movingly earnest ingénue. Their first romantic moment together plays somewhat fast even by whirlwind romance standards, but slower pacing in other scenes better serves both their skills and the text, notably in Bulger’s fine soliloquies. 

Gordon Cobb’s Lord Montague is overblown, Mazor and Parry are both erratic, and Nazim sometimes seems like he’s in a different play than the others. He’s a talented, often compelling performer—his sarcastically skeptical attitude early on clearly and amusingly reminding us just what a starry-eyed dolt Romeo can be, for instance—but other moments get played too big or too odd or both, such that his wild-eyed Friar nets some unintentional laughs in awkwardly serious places. 

On the bright side, R. Tori Fraser’s Benvelina (a gender-flipped Benvolio) is a likeable presence, Benton Hartley’s suitably sour Tybalt brings glowering intensity to his part, and an energetic, funny, animated Ashley Nicole MacLeod nearly steals the whole darn show in the plum role of Mercutia (a gender-flipped Mercutio), though all three of these characters exit the play early. What remains thereafter, despite the setting and venue, is not exactly a religious experience.

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