Presented by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Allegra Libonati
July 19 – August 6, 2017
Commonwealth Shakespeare Company on Facebook
Romeo and Juliet is like an old jalopy: if you want it to run, you need to know where to kick it, when to kick it, and how hard to kick it. Unfortunately, I really don’t think that director Allegra Libonati has the formula down (and not for lack of trying).
Here’s the biggest problem with this show: your audience knows it. You can bank on the fact that 90% of the audience knows how this show is going to end (and if they don’t, you’ll be telling them in the opening soliloquy). Perhaps 75% of them have already read or seen it in some form or fashion. You are definitely going to have audience members mouthing the soliloquies as your actors try desperately to imbue some new sense of meaning, feeling, or understanding into them that generations of great actors before have not yet imbued. The show is haunted by these performances, and your vision needs to be strong enough to shine through this haunting. Libonati’s kind of…. wasn’t. We’ve seen it before; we’ve seen the winged Juliet at a costume ball (Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet). We’ve seen the nurse in her nun-like habit (Franco Zeffirelli’s 1986 film). We’ve seen the petulant youthful lovers, the over-angry lord Capulet; it’s all there. I don’t think that CSC’s production really offered us something new or different.
The talent onstage was extremely impressive. Brandon Green’s Benvolio is deft and charming. Ramona Lisa Alexander is miscast as the nurse (she’s too young! It’s written all over the text; get an old nurse or you’re fighting the verse the whole way!!), but her efforts to overcome this obstacle yielded noteworthy results. Kario Marcel plays a flamboyant and energetic Mercutio, bringing vim and vigor to the role. Kai Tshikosi plays a serviceable Tybalt; fierce and imposing (just like you need him to be).
The noteworthy exceptions to this talented roster of performers are the play’s titular characters: John Zdrojeski as Romeo and Gracyn Mix as Juliet. Both might be talented actors, but the direction they were given (to act as petulant teenagers) did great disservice to them. I think this is perhaps best articulated by the audience’s reaction when Friar Laurence (Equiano Mosieri) slapped Romeo across the face: everyone clapped and cheered even amidst the “dramatic” moment this was supposed to be. Mix mangled the verse; pushing so hard to “ACT” that she forgot to simply exist. When we saw “how she leans her cheek upon her hand,” it was an act motivated to justify Romeo’s text rather than any internal sense of being. The characters did things because they were told to do it, not because the actors felt an impulse towards it. This was disappointing to say the least.
The costumes by Neil Fortin were beautiful; portraying a sense of being and belonging while simultaneously managing to be simple yet lavish. Julia Noulin-Mérat’s scenic design was gorgeous and set the stage of Verona perfectly, giving the actors plenty of space upon which to lay the scene. Angie Jepson’s fights needed more directorial support; while they were proficiently executed and expertly crafted, they were not given room to breathe. Romeo and Juliet is a play about violence. Despite that, the fights seemed rushed and short; like the director told Jepson to do the least possible work to get her point across. This was disappointing as an audience member because I WANT TO SEE THE COOL FIGHTS!, but it was more disappointing as a fight director. The fights are such a vital piece of the play’s narrative that to see them given short shrift this way did disservice to both the play, and the talent working on it.
On the whole, this production is mediocre. Come for the talent, grab a (once again) amazing ice cream sundae from the Ben & Jerry’s truck (“These cherry delights have chocolate ends”), and expect to get what you pay for. After all, you can’t complain about free Shakespeare.
We elected a thin-skinned bigot to the office of the President dead set on turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.
Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD
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