United Players
A Tender Thing by Ben Power

Dates and Venue September 6 – 29 Thurs through Sun 2019, 8pm (matinees Sun Sept. 15, 22 & 29 at 2pm – no eve. Perf.) | Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery

Director Sarah Rodgers Executive Producer Andree Karas Technical Director Leighton Taylor Set Designer R. Todd Parker Costume Designer Julie White Lighting Designer Brad Trenaman Sound Designer Julie Casselman Stage Manager Becky Fitzpatrick Choir Director Lonnie Delisle

Reviewer Christian Steckler

It is a rare treat to see an adaptation of a classic, imaginatively carried into new directions and new realms of possibility. Such is the case with Ben Power’s A Tender Thing, where we witness Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet having somehow forgone their double suicide, and having cherished their romance for a lifetime. We catch up to them in their senior years.

Entering the theatre, the audience is struck by the ethereal set design, simple, promising compact function, and lightly draped in mist. The play opens with a small choir offering a prologue…more about them later.

The genius of Ben Power’s writing lies behind the success of this production. Rodgers’ expert direction and the fine acting talent of the performers bring his vision to life. At first, this reviewer was disoriented, and somewhat confused about where the play was headed. As the scene unfolded, with the realization that this was a dream sequence, things began to make sense, and as the play progressed into waking moments, the development was clear, and the action, powerful.

When Romeo (Troy Skog) appears, we see a man matured in his status and confidence, with seasoned insights, hinting at a grateful setting aside of the youthful brashness that characterized the young Romeo. What remains from his youth is the fervour of his love for Juliet, eloquently poured forth in an initial dream-like segment of this one-act play, and, indeed, throughout.

Upon Juliet’s (Denyse Wilson) entrance, we see the same romantic passion returned, having carried the couple forward through the years. Juliet has matured in her outlook, also. Her contentment is clear, her gratitude overflowing, and her playful whimsy present, yet tempered to match her years.

Wilson and Skog are the only performers in this play. They carry the entire evening. It is a true testament to their skills that they are able to spellbind the audience through the entire production. We chuckle at times, tear up at certain points, and watch, dead silent, at key moments…carried so skillfully into their world by the exceptional abilities of both these accomplished actors. Their expressive talents weave their emotions seamlessly and naturally through moments of joy, regret, sadness and resignation. It is a genuine pleasure to witness their talents.

No stage performance can carry power without talented production staff. This one is no exception. The imaginative sets are transformed from dream to reality by brilliant light design and execution. Sounds, from bird song to background, to somewhat anachronistic dance music tickle the senses. Costumes are simple, comfortable, and modern compared to those of Shakespeare’s original period play.

The choir, mentioned earlier, is one element that seems an odd fit in this production. Their brief appearance at the beginning offers a kind of prologue, and that is the last we see of them. The small number of singers (six) projects a sound too weak for the space. This might be remedied either by having more singers, or by including harmonic elements. The inclusion of the choir might fit beautifully if it could be used at times throughout transitional or explanatory moments in the play, and in an epilogue. Such organic involvement would prevent the feeling that it is an after-thought or some sort of appendage.

That said, the small part played by the choir is no great distraction from the pleasing effect of this stellar production. A Tender Thing is a play to be included in this season’s to-do list. The production values, the script, the direction and especially the brilliant acting talents make this a must-see.

© 2019 Christian Steckler