- Romeo and Juliet, and: 'Tis Pity She's a Whore
For their second "Actors' Renaissance Season" Shenandoah Shakespeare produced Romeo andJuliet and John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore in repertory, along with Eastward Ho and a new play, Paul Menzer's send-up of early modern historical drama, The Brats of Clarence. What made this the "Actors' Renaissance Season" wasn't just the fact that the plays of Shakespeare's contemporaries were performed, but that the two-month season indeed belonged to the actors, who prepared the plays from first rehearsal to final performance themselves, without the intervention of directors or designers. Aside from a fight choreographer, the crew was devoid of any of the usual professionals and included instead the minimalist mainstays of the early modern theatre: "prompters," "tyremen," and a "bookkeeper." As the program notes purport, "Taking out the middlemen" means "doing it Shakespeare's way" and "getting back to the roots of Renaissance drama."
As is the case with virtually every dimension of Ralph Cohen's reconstructed Blackfriars Playhouse, this strategy, while informed by early modern theatrical practice, ultimately strives to "create an even stronger bond between performer and audience." In contrast to the recreated Globe Theatre's emphasis on replicating the material conditions of Shakespeare's culture in their lavishly costumed productions, the Blackfriars aims for experiential authenticity, a version of historicity that is more flexible and, not incidentally, far less expensive. With no formal director or designer for the productions, the company hopes to deliver the "raw energy of the Renaissance theatre." In fact the plays do seem to rely heavily on moments of actor-audience recognition and engagement more than is typical in modern Shakespearean theatre, where a thematic emphasis is often expected to emerge as a result of a number of deliberately conceived and interconnected stylistic and directorial choices. The actors at the Blackfriars are playing to please a distinctly modern audience, not to realize a director's vision.
The primacy of the actor in this approach may be related to the enhanced impact that the repertory system, long used by Shenandoah Shakespeare, has on the performance of these two tragedies of young love. The long-acknowledged verbal and thematic affinity between the two plays was powerfully reinforced by the fact that the same cast of twelve actors played the parts in 'Tis Pity that most closely corresponded [End Page 93] with their roles in Romeo and Juliet. Matthew Sincell and Miriam Donald played Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers and Ford's incestuous brother and sister. Jessica Dunton played Juliet's Nurse and Annabella's "tut'ress" Putana. John Harrell was Friar Lawrence and Friar Bonaventura. Rene Thornton, Jr. played the roles of the rival suitors, Paris and Soranzo. On one hand, this double-casting technique encouraged a productive comparison between the plays, pointing out the extent to which the integrity of both pairs of lovers is juxtaposed with the corruption and hypocrisy of Verona and Parma. According to...