Contemporary Shakespeare worth the hiccups

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November 15, 2013

A Tender Thing by Ben Power

Directed by Peter Hinton

November 5- December 8, 2013

The Belfry Theatre

Review by Nadia Grutter

“Give me the light.”

Lights up on Romeo as an aged man. He stands with his hands open by his sides, eyes fixed on his gaunt beloved. Juliet lies in a queen-sized, covers pulled up around her bare shoulders. Her white hair is pushed back from her wizened face. She is dying.

The November 7, 2013 North American premiere of Ben Powers’ A Tender Thing captured the audience…for the most part.  Powers’ contemporary twist on Shakespeare’s tragedy shows Romeo and Juliet as an old couple attempting to save their love against time and illness in classical Shakespearean dialogue. But while the lighting, sound, set and acting impressed individually, the lacklustre couple detracted from the play.

But before I get to that, I’d like to congratulate lighting designer Robert Thomson and sound designer Brooke Maxwell for an unforgettable dream-like ambiance mixed with ethereal and realistic light and sound. The play opened and closed with deep cello instrumentals, which enhanced the inherent darkness in the play.

But in dark there was light: Maxwell incorporated classic love songs, like “I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos while Thompson illuminated the stage with water-like projections.  I thought the water lighting was particularly effective, as it reflected the fluid, eternal nature of Romeo and Juliet’s love. Most importantly, the lighting/sound indicated changes in time, which fast-forwarded and rewound throughout the play. This is what I took issue with: without the strong lighting and sound, I think the audience may have become confused as to where they were within the story.

The set was impressive as well. The walls of stage left and right were two giant mirrors, expanding the stage into a reflective landscape. Juliet’s bed was portable, and made for some fun moments with Romeo scooting the bed around the stage in an infatuated stupor. Other props included two chairs (which went largely unused and made me question their significance) and a massive wooden door set back in centre stage. The free standing wooden door symbolized death, release, enlightenment or all of the above, and loomed ominously in the background as a latent reminder of the couple’s impending fate.

And Peter Anderson! The actor as Romeo kept the audience laughing, and sometimes crying, with his charisma and earnestness. Claire Coulter was less demanding as Juliet and didn’t project well. She did, however, skillfully alter her voice according to her age. Together the actors didn’t seem to click. Maybe it was nerves; maybe it was an off night. But as two of the most famous lovers in literary history, their display of passion was disappointing.

The end of Powers’ play was both surprising and inevitable, which is a difficult balance to strike. A little shocking, too. I won’t give it away. I’d see the play again, if not just for the ending, to see experience atmosphere heightened with the love I have faith Coulter and Anderson can more strongly portray.

 

 

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