By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The upcoming run of “Romeo and Juliet” at the Youngstown Playhouse will be Shakespeare as Shakespeare intended.
Terry Burgler will see to that.
Burgler, artistic director of the Ohio Shakespeare Festival based at Stan Hywet Hall in Akron, is directing the Playhouse production.
In discussing Shakespeare with Burgler, it becomes immediately obvious that he is an expert, and one with great passion. Theatergoers can expect his “Romeo and Juliet” to be a singular experience for its authenticity.
Burgler has been doing professional theater for 40 years, and Shakespeare for a good chunk of that time. The Kent resident was one of only two Americans who visited The Globe Theater re-creation project in London in 2003, where he worked with master Shakespeare actors and directors.
It was that time spent in the hallowed space of The Bard’s own theater that gave Burgler his greatest insight into how Shakespeare himself meant for his work to be performed. In short, Shakespeare wrote for the audience of Londoners standing in the pit of his open-roofed venue on any given afternoon in the late 16th century.
Because the audience was literally standing at the foot of the stage in broad daylight, it was impossible for the actors to ignore it. And Shakespeare didn’t either.
There was no “fourth wall”; that came in vogue during the 20th century. Instead, actors at The Globe spoke their soliloquies into the audience. And if a character was addressing a crowd as part of the action, again, the audience stood in for that crowd.
The result, according to Burgler, was to put each audience member’s imagination into play, resulting in a much richer experience for him or her.
“There was more of a connection with the audience,” said Burgler.
For the same reason, Shakespeare kept sets and props at a minimum. Imagination and the actors’ abilities were all that was needed to transport the theatergoer to any part of the world.
“Some plays have two dozen scenes, and [pausing to change scenery for each] would stop the play dead,” said Burgler. “But more importantly, the Shakespearan style is for the scenes to bump right up to each other. There is not even two seconds between one and the next. It was very cinematic. The juxtaposition of scenes should be tight and fluid.”
For Burgler’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the Playhouse stage will have an upper and lower platform, with a basic Tudor look: stucco and wooden beams. The theater’s aisles will be used for some entrances.
Burgler also embraces the one aspect that some find the greatest barrier to Shakespeare: the dense and poetic Elizabethan language of the script.
“Most people find it thick or hard to follow,” said Burgler. To surmount that obstacle, his actors stay true to the verse as Shakespeare meant for it to be delivered. After a warm-up period, the audience follows easily. “When it is clear that the actors know what the words mean, the audience does not get lost,” said Burgler. “They at least know the actor knew what he was saying.”
That level of vocal affectation, reflecting the meaning of Shakespeare’s antique words, enhances communication, said Burgler. The actors’ comprehension of their lines becomes contagious to the audience.
A question that is often posed to Shakespeare directors is, “What will be your treatment of the play?,” because Shakespeare’s works are often updated, abridged or set in different time periods.
Burgler bats the question away.
“Many feel like the first step is to come up with a concept or a time period,” he said. “I don’t see that as necessary if you are making the play come alive. You don’t need to prop up Shakespeare.”
The cast of the Playhouse’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” includes Dylan White as Romeo, Corina Dougherty as Juliet, and Cleric Costes, Nate Beagle, Candy DiLullo, John Cox, Anthony Genovese, Liz Conrad, Johnny Pecano, Kim Akins, Molly Galano, Terry Shears, Snezana Jelic, Kris Harrington, George Jelic, Nick Narkum, Miranda Canacci, Daniel Ryland, Allison Good and Dave Dougherty.