Lacking world enough and time, I won’t get to see any of the RSC productions in New York this summer. But I just read Charles Isherwood’s review in today’s Times, and I can’t resist commenting on the sentimental vision of the play that the paper provides.
I know that the Times reviews dream of a mass audience, not just snarky intellectuals or Bardo-o-philes or even well-heeled Lincoln Center regulars. But surely we can do better than bromides about Juliet’s “fundamental innocence” or the arrival of “something deeper and purer in her soul”? Isn’t Juliet more radical, more urgent, more human than familiar platitudes about “transcendent love”?
I’m not a big Rupert Goold fan, and Isherwood’s descriptions suggest a production that shares some of the distractions of his Macbeth, with Patrick Stewart. I did like Goold’s Arctic Tempest, also with Stewart as the lead, though that one sadly never made it to NYC. Sometimes the high concept direction preempts strong performances.
If we take Isherwood to represent the Times market, a mass educated audience, I wonder if it’s a failure of modern theater productions or of contemporary Shakespeare culture that he’s stuck in such a Hallmark card-ish view of this play. He should listen to Juliet commanding darkness and the stars on her wedding night —
Come, night, come Romeo, come thou day in night,
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow upon a raven’s back.
Come, gentle night, come loving, black-brow’d night
Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
Transcendence, perhaps, but not much purity or innocence. Shakespeare’s plays always seems less sentimental than his reviewers.