What I learned. . .

The opportunity to direct Romeo and Juliet at Pioneer Theatre Company gave me the chance to solidify ideas about the play that had gotten clearer for me through a number of previous productions: the juxtaposition of comic and tragic elements; Mediterranean passion as a driving force within the play; the impact of the story on an entire town; the balcony scene as genuinely funny because of its infatuated teen-agers veracity; the velocity of events; and perhaps more than anything else, the artful cinematic lap-dissolve of one scene into the next.

It took working on the play several times to realize that at the end of almost every scene in the play, the name of the first character to speak in the next scene is spoken by one of the characters on stage.  Juliet tells Friar Laurence, “Farewell, father,” when she has procured the potion from him; Lord Capulet is the first to speak in the very next scene.  Romeo tells us he’ll to his “ghostly father” at the end of the balcony scene; next up is the Friar, with his soliloquy about the medicinal power of herbs.  “Wisely and slow: they stumble that run fast,” cautions the Friar at the end of the scene; the next two people to enter are Mercutio and Benvolio, quite possibly on the run – one of whom definitely stumbles later in the play when he runs much too fast.

By overlapping entrances in such a way that the characters are seen the moment their names are mentioned in the preceding scene, I tried to maintain the steady pulse of the action and help make a long play seem short.  It also made keeping the language flowing that much easier.

One of the great pleasures of this production was getting to direct Mark Murphey as Friar Laurence.  A long-standing member of the acting company at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; I had seen Mark play Romeo in a ground-breaking production during the 1975 season at OSF.  Many of the choices in that production have resonated for me ever since attending; to work with Mark as the Friar was intimidating at first but ultimately rewarding.  Much of the cast came from New York and were graduates of leading actor training programs.  Mark, well-known on the west coast and a real trained-through-experience actor, was new to them, and it was secretly very satisfying to watch the east coast actors notice and then appreciate Mark’s facility with verse with something approaching awe by the time we opened.  He became known -- affectionately I hasten to say -- as “Mr. Shakespeare.”

Romeo and Juliet

Pioneer Theatre Company

February, 2009

Matt Jared, Amelia McLain

“In an incandescent moment at the end of Pioneer Theatre Company’s remarkable production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Benvolio picks up the rose Romeo has dropped in his ill-fated duel with Tybalt on one side of the stage while Juliet, clasping her wedding bouquet, waits expectantly for Romeo on her balcony on the other side.    This image unifies several polarities in which the play turns: the excitement of young love against the inescapable consequences of hatred; joyful anticipation of a new life against the dark reality of a death that makes that new life impossible; the promise of the future against the fateful legacy of the past.

“One of the triumphs of this production is that it captures this momentum and the tension it generates, without ever rushing.  Director Paul Barnes has orchestrated all the elements to tell the story in the simplest, most straightforward way he can.  Besides the balcony, Bill Clarke’s set consists of a large copper backdrop with doors, reminiscent of a medieval walled city, and a platform at center stage which transitions from Romeo and Juliet’s marriage bed to Juliet’s tomb.

“One scene melts into the next as characters glide unobtrusively on and off the stage, the viewer’s attention firmly focused by Michael Gilliam’s soft, golden, chiaroscuro lighting, which highlights characters against the surrounding darkness.  Susan Branch Towne’s richly detailed costumes look as if they stepped out of a Renaissance painting.  Paul Kiernan’s fight choreography is crisp and exciting.  Sound designer Joe Payne’s tolling bells and twittering birds vividly establish time and place.

“Matt Jared and Amelia McClain are perfectly paired as Romeo and Juliet, riding the roller coaster of their emotions with a combination of determination and passionate abandon.  When they collapse into the arms of the friar and nurse, we see they are really still children, caught by circumstances they can neither control nor even comprehend.

“If you’ve ever wondered why Romeo and Juliet has survived 400 years, this eloquent production will convince you.  Its disarmingly direct, yet subtle, storytelling celebrates the lost loves and missed opportunities that mark our lives and make them memorable.”

    Barbara M. Bannon

    Salt Lake Tribune

“. . . as difficult as it is to mesh these tragic and comic elements, Pioneer Theatre Company does a commendable job.  The production is full of fine performers, but mostly, I applaud director Paul Barnes’ deft use of them.

“Comic characters are let loose to full effect.  Mercutio (David Graham Jones) gets all the good phallic puns and macho swagger, but he remains grounded in humanity.  This allows his death – the hard demarcation between the comedic and tragic portions of the evening – to become genuinely moving.  His companions watch with grim realization while he continues to crack wise between sincere curses with his final breaths.

“Juliet’s Nurse (Glynis Bell) is also hilarious, but without being reduced to a caricature.  She and Juliet (Amelia McClain) share a playful and believable affection that brightens their scenes together.

“McClain as Juliet is the production’s most pleasant surprise.  Her treatment of the ironic heroine brims with the silly girlishness you would expect from someone not yet 14 years old, whereas most performances allow her ultimate fate to overshadow her early scenes.  Most impressive is the famous balcony scene.  What is usually dripping with saccharine sentiment is instead, here, infused with the giggle-inducing effervescence of infatuation along with sincere, if naïve, feeling.”

    Rob Tennant

    Salt Lake City Weekly

“Don’t wait for the next production of Romeo and Juliet to get you out of the house; this is a fine version you shouldn’t miss.”

    Dan Nailen

    Salt Lake Magazine

“Dazzling sets, acting add life to Romeo and Juliet.”

“A lovely production, as beautiful to look at as the words themselves.”

“Director Paul Barnes has assembled a very fine cast of local and New York actors.”

    Erica Hansen

    Deseret News