What does it mean to truly experience Shakespeare? What does it mean to present art in its truest flesh? Soulpepper presents us with yet another classic, though with an interesting twist, with its production of Ben Power’s A Tender Thing, directed by Michael Shamata. Recreating Shakespeare’s beloved Romeo and Juliet, Ben Power presents it as a decaying love brought on by grief, depression and loss, in the wake of an elderly couple’s romance. Although the show seemed to present some interesting ideas, the overall product seemed undercooked, providing for an hour and 20 minutes of too much of the same formula.
The movement sequences, which provided the melancholy romance with an interesting fluidity, definitely evoked an emotional response, though midway through the show, they began to seem a bit tedious and overdone. In contrast to the dancing segments however, the lighting scheme may have been the strongest aspect of the show, presenting constant change and emotional development, as the characters went through their romantic back and forth on stage. What particularly struck me was the thick blue wash that was applied during the first waltz, framing the old, yet tender couple in an impenetrable sea of intimacy.
Further into the performance, it had also occurred to me that the door onstage did not fully fulfill its role as a door, leaving a large gap between it and the stage left curtain. The large gap seemed to reveal Romeo as he would exit, turning the door into a visible portal between the world of the play and the backstage setting, removing us from the immersion at hand. The gap did occasionally work to the advantage of the actors however, providing a comedic jerk for the audience to lean on during Juliet’s beckoning of Romeo, revealing Romeo rushing back to her.
The performances themselves seemed to serve their part, though the predictable blocking made for too obvious of an objective, leaving absolutely no mystery or need to continue watching. In terms of the performers themselves however, it’s no surprise that Nancy Palk (Juliet) and Joseph Zeigler (Romeo) displayed a deeply affectionate couple, holding up what there was of the show’s 80 minute runtime.
All in all, the concept of the decaying love of an elderly couple in conjunction with the blossoming love of Romeo and Juliet definitely offered a contrasting perspective, interesting and different in nature, though the execution of the idea could have involved significant additions. The performance felt slightly incomplete, and I felt that I left the theatre without enough to think about. However, in terms of challenging the old to make it new, this production took a large and heavy step towards innovation and I would be very interested in seeing it remounted and expanded on in the future.
A Tender Thing is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until October 1st. For tickets and more information, visit www.soulpepper.ca.
photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann