Emilia Galotti and Romeo and Juliet

Ellen and I wrapped up the Stratford season this week with two plays back to back.

Emilia Galotti

Thursday we went to see Emilia Galotti. It’s a German play, and was presented in German with English surtitles. Apparently the acting troupe was brought in from Germany and the production was supposedly kind of a big deal in theatre circles.

I didn’t like it much. That might have had something to do with not being able to read the surtitles. Having some idea what they were talking about might have helped.

We were sitting in the back row (in case Ellen and I needed to take off for whatever reason). The balcony conveniently hid half the surtitle screen. I could read them only if I leaned forward in my seat, almost hovering over the shoulder of the person in front of me. This was awkward socially. It also wasn’t doing my back any good, so I just gave up and tried to get the most out of just watching the strange people talking in German and taking their shirts off. The men anyway.

They were doing an arty sort of existentialist presentation of the play, too. That probably didn’t help my appreciation much. The stage was an stark, forced perspective room, with a single open door in the back. The walls on either side opened up, allowing (or not, inexplicably) people to enter and exit that way. For whatever reason. Generally, with two actors on stage, one actor would deliver his or her lines and the other would stand stock still, looking at the audience. Then they switch. There was a lot of that.

I’m sure it had some deep meaning, but if you can’t pick up on the surface meaning, the deep meaning is hopelessly lost. I could tell the actors were good actors, but that doesn’t really matter in the end. From my perspective, it was just strange people talking in German and men taking their shirts off for no readily apparent reason. At least it was short.

We stumbled upon a reception for the play afterwards. We were somewhat under-dressed. Even so, I got to enjoy the free food and Ellen got to schmooze. There were speeches from the director, the German ambassador to Canada, the local MP, some provincial minister and a couple other dignitaries. Ellen wanted to go and talk to Antoni Cimolino and also ended up spending a bit of time chatting with Des McAnuff. I suggested afterwards that since we were hobnobbing, maybe we should’ve cornered the German ambassador for his opinion on the ACTA treaties. Maybe next time.

Mr McAnuff asked what we thought of Emilia Galotti, but we demurred and said something like “It was okay,” and changed the subject.

Romeo and Juliet

Last night, we rounded off the season with Romeo and Juliet. That was much more enjoyable. Juliet was played by the same actress who played Cleopatra in Caesar and Cleopatra. I think I liked her as Cleopatra better (she pulls off child-like but slightly insane very well in that one), but she was a very good Juliet, playing the role more like the thirteen-year-old she is. Romeo was also very good. As was the nurse and Lord and Lady Capulet.

How they handled Mercutio was a bit strange. I usually really like Mercutio, but I didn’t really like this one. I wonder how much of it was the actor and how much was a deliberate directoral choice. In the confrontation with Thibault, most productions I’ve seen make Romeo seem kind of swooning and fanciful, and Mercutio steps in, possibly because his friend is acting so unusual. In this one, Romeo is determined and almost desperate, but Mercutio is kind of a dick who can’t abide being slighted.

Subtle changes in interpretation can change the play a lot.

The other strange thing is the costume choices. They start off with roughly modern dress, but then everybody gets dressed up all Elizabethan-like for the masquerade ball. I thought this was a clever choice, but everybody stays in period costume until Romeo and Juliet are discovered dead. (Oops, spoiler. Sorry). Only then do they revert to the modern costumes. It makes a certain sort of sense, but it’s also kind of weird. And it makes it harder to keep track of characters who look very different between the two sets of costumes.

The acting was great, though, and the production over all was really good. I’d say go see it, but it closed today.