Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"Romeo and Juliet" Young and Zesty
Cleveland Press July 3, 1963
It is considered fortunate for the other actors in "Romeo and Juliet" that Mercutio is killed off early in the play, providing he's a good Mercutio.
Such a Mercutio is Edward Grover. His lines roll off his tongue as though he loves them dearly, but loves those that follow even more.
He fits the actions to his words with the grace of a dancer and the strength of an athlete. This is a Mercutio in which the bawdiness and cynicism come through in more than just the words that Shakespeare provided.
Producer-director Arthur Lithgow has trimmed this play slightly. Gone are such scenes as that which finds Romeo and his companions happening upon the Capulet servant and his invitation list to the ball, and another that explains why Friar Lawrence's message to Romeo went astray. They are gone but not particularly missed.
I wished that he had cut another as well, one that is not expository as are these others, but is merely superfluous. This is the comic scene with the musicians which follows Juliet's supposed death.
Shakespeare may have meant it as comic relief, but for modern audiences it is a jarring bit of business that hurts the mood of the play at that point.
Brita Brown's Juliet is a graceful, charming creature, coming as close as possible to Shakespeare's unfortunately exact description of being a girl not quite 14.
Her speech is quick and her voice is high, not the low, passionate tones one might expect. But this is proper, if you remember that this is a girlish part.
In keeping with this approach, the balcony scene comes out gay and sprightly and Juliet even manages to point up the mock humor in the line, "Oh, swear not by the moon."
In her moments of grief her voice deepens to indicate sorrow. The scene in which she learns of Romeo's banishment is a commanding one.
At only one point does her performance fail her -- and this may be as much Lithgow's fault as hers -- and that is in her final death scene in the tomb.
Emotion is lacking, yet she has just discovered that Paris is slain and Romeo has killed himself. Perhaps she is supposed to be in too much of a stupor, having just awakened from a lengthy coma.
Wailing and crying are not necessary, but some show of emotion would have sustained the mood. As it is, the play goes flat.
DeVeren Bookwalter's Romeo is a young, starry-eyed man, handsome enough to fit the description. He speaks his lines with rapture. But is all that grief necessary? Has Lithgow exacted too many tears from his performance?
The lesser roles are all well performed. David Tress' Paris, Edward Zang's Tybalt and Dennis Longwell's Benvolio are all individuals. Ruby Holbrook captures all the comic characteristics of the nurse.
Edward Grover, in addition to playing Mercutio, is credited with directing the sword-play. The duel between Romeo and Tybalt is overdone, even resorting to the old movie trick of having one person lose his sword and his adversary gallantly restoring it. The final stabbing of Tybalt is a gory business.
Lithgow's ending of the play ignores Shakespeare's directions, and wisely so. He leaves the curtain open on the rear stage scene showing the tomb and the dead lovers.
In so doing he closes the play with a tragic tableau.