nytheatre.com review by David Ledoux
August 10, 2007
This first series of images in Andras Visky's Juliet are among the most striking of the production: A woman is behind a series of transparent sheets in a box, with only her head and legs visible, dimly lit; with wonderfully moving music playing as we enter the theatre.
Juliet wakes in a morgue after her husband, a Hungarian pastor, is arrested. She, along with her seven children, are evicted and brought to a Romanian prison camp. Juliet then recounts the experiences that have brought her to this moment in a hazy dreamlike struggle to make sense of her situation. As Juliet struggles with her past, her God, and her imprisoned husband, she relies on parallel stories of love, passion and faith such as the story of Job and Romeo and Juliet to confront her fate.
Melissa Hawkins's performance as Juliet is very strong. She has a powerful inner quality that never seems forced or unfelt. Her physical and vocal presence fills the stage with all the specificity, focus, and power that a one-woman show requires. Her text work in the moments where she plays out some of Shakespeare's scenes of Romeo and Juliet is also very good.
Christopher Markle's direction is subtle and has some striking moments. He has led a team of designers who had very little to work with, this being a fringe show after all, and who have brought a striking and cohesive feel to the piece. The lighting by Ryan Breneisen and Andrew Dunning is simple yet very evocative in the use of shadow. Terrence McClellan's set of transparent fabric and a trunk is also wonderfully understated yet effective. Stephen Pilkington's sound design and Sue Kapp's costuming also deserve note as well.
This all being said, I think the sum of this production is less than its individual parts. Despite the good acting and interesting design elements, and the experienced direction of Markle, I was a little confused and therefore a little bored.
I had a fear this may happen when I read in the program at the top of the play, "We recommend that you put aside your need to understand each detail, and simply allow the story to take shape in its own time." I am not opposed to this idea, it's just that it's really hard to pull off. The problem is that if you toy with an audience in confusion, you run the very real risk of the audience not becoming more engaged, but becoming less engaged. Everyone's threshold is different, but this production went past the place where I was intrigued to figure out all the complex story points and understand the philosophical and human issues that were being explored. There weren't enough strong images, risky choices, and moments built upon moments to give a strong cohesion to the play.
Markle needs to have more of a sense of ebb and flow. There weren't peaks and valleys; climaxes subsiding to low points. I didn't know which moments were important and which unimportant. I began to feel that I wasn't being told a story but that I was being shown an experience. Almost as though this could have been a brilliant painting, but not a theatre piece. Again, there is nothing wrong with this in theory, but the experience needs to be visceral enough to engage the audience for the duration, and Juliet falls a little short.