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9/19/13

Romeo and Julie-...CUT!

Have you ever watched a show devolving into such a trainwreck that you have a compulsion to yell "CUT," like an overzealous movie director, and yank everything into its place before resuming?

Well, let's just say for the audience's sake at the matinee of Romeo and Juliet I attended - now open at the Richard Rodgers Theater - they should be glad I was seated in the mezzanine and couldn't really budge or yell.

Actually, 10 minutes into the lethargic second act, I was fighting the urge to catch an afternoon power nap. So even if I could do something, it was too late in the game.

Oy, where to begin? First thing's first, Romeo and Juliet is far from my favorite Shakespeare piece. I know it is easy to indulge in 21st century reflection, but the general storyline of Romeo and Juliet does read off like a snarchy Tumblr meme. In fact, I think I read one somewhere that's like, "Romeo and Juliet is not a tragic love story. It is about two stupid teenagers whom fall in love in 24 hours and then die. #Truth #JustSaying #SpoilerAlert #ExceptNotReally #BecauseYouKnewThatAlready"

Like a BOSS!
Yeah, something like that…except I would add that the entire story is aided on by the most convenient of plot contrivances and misunderstandings.

To be fair, this David Leveaux-directed "modern" production (their words, not mine) didn't start off at a bad place. The graffiti'd wall, the chains and knives during the Montague/Capulet fight, the "let's set every backdrop on fire for no reason" approach, the AGGRESSIVELY LOUD MUSIC…it all called to mind a more modern version of West Side Story. Since West Side Story is a modern take on Romeo & Juliet, that is a suitable direction to go in and a low-form of meta-commentary. And hey, Orlando Bloom's first entrance (and exit) as Romeo was on a motorcycle. Because…you know, walking in on foot from stage-right is so outdated, you guys!

As if all of that wasn't enough of a gift, Romeo whips off his helmet and does a slight hair toss. And during his next scene with Benvolio, he does another helmet removal/hair toss combo of fab. Why was his helmet on again when the motorcycle was nowheres to be found? Who cares! Romeo and Juliet temporarily became Jekyll and Hyde levels of awesomely terrible - hair tossing (sans schizophrenia) and pyrotechnics! - and we are only 15 minutes in.

So yeah, I was squee-ing internally at the prospect of a fun, bonkers-ey time. Unfortunately, that ended before it ever really began (although there is more AGGRESSIVELY LOUD MUSIC and fire to go around. Heck, Juliet's death bed defies gravity like the table of chemicals in Jekyll and Hyde). The set started to show how incongruous it really was with the sandy beaches of Verona on the sides…except it was inconsistent with the rest of the Bronx-esque design and it never was quite established that this production is set in Verona. It really just amounted to "sand on stage." Genius.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg because the famous balcony scene was set on…a fisherman's pier, end-of-a-boardwalk sort of thing. You know, just like the ones you have in your backyard. That Romeo does pull-ups from and hoist himself up and down. I'm sorry…what?

The overall scheme and design left a little a lot to be desired, a problem only compounded with how mismatched and mis-directed it all was. It might have been redeemed with some kickass performances; unfortunately, the audience only got one. Fortunately, it was Orlando Bloom, who's casting was always a big question mark considering he is more then twice the age of Romeo. Well, shut me up because I forgave him once he started projecting the Shakespearian language to the back row like a consummate professional. He fully inhabited the character and looked emphatic while doing it...talk about breathing life into the text.

Unfortunately, the rest of the production couldn't be bothered with matching his talents and I have no idea why he was throwing himself at Condola Rashad's Juliet, whom sheepishly whispers and giggles and crawls around like a 12-year-old girl eating pixie sticks on the eve of a One Direction concert. When Romeo departs for most of the second act, it was the show's loss as we were stuck watching her and the ensemble wander about the stage in disarray. Hence, my almost-power nap.

Now, I didn't see Romeo and Juliet before the show was locked in…and when that is the case, I typically chalk up certain 'issues' as a result of early preview madness. But during the matinee I saw it, Paris didn't die. And when I realized that as the next scene transition happened, I threw my hands up in "…the fu**" fashion. Because you know…Paris dies. Like, in every version of the show. Books, movies, you name it. 

If Paris dies in the final version of this show, then disregard this. But if he doesn't…well, doesn't that remove some of the dramatic punch of the story? Not to mention, what's the point of this anomaly when the rest of the show was preserving the original plot points/dialogue (which were one of the only concepts that worked)?

There are reasons why Romeo and Juliet is still around getting high school, regional and off-Broadway stagings and serving as the inspiration for many other forms of modern entertainment. Shakespeare's language has and always will be beautiful and there is a quaint, relatable and nostalgic appeal that lies in this classic love story. Instead, I left this Broadway revival nervous that the fire on stage will eventually burn down the theater. And not-so-secretly hoping that Daniel Sullivan will burst through the front door yelling, "CUT" before hacking up the production and splicing together something worthy of a paying audience. As it stands, the production is slightly modern and slightly campy for a little while before becoming dated and uninspired (and under-performed) for the vast majority of the runtime. And no one wants that in their Shakespeare.


Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

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