October 23rd, 2010

La Loge

Romeo & Juliet

I haven't actually seen a lot of live productions of Romeo and Juliet.  I've seen a bunch of movies, from Zefirelli's lush fantasia to R&J,  to a 1998 off-off-Broadway all-male, just-the-good-parts version with the whole cast dressed as English schoolboys, called Shakespeare's R&J [ETA thanks to paddymeboy ].  So I was very excited to see the Acting Company's production, part of Pace University's Shakespeare at Pace program.

Two households, both alike in belted linen coats and newsboy caps, in fair Verona, circa 1910, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny with furled umbrellas and sword-sticks.  It really worked remarkably well, with the Capulet and Montague factions brawling not entirely soberly in front of an ancient-looking wall updated with turn of the century electric light fixtures, and the guests doing the Turkey Trot to a gramaphone in the party scene.  They played Romeo as a rash teenager, and the actor was perfect--angsty, passionate, with no more ability to judge the likely consequences of his actions than a rabbit.  It was unfortunate that he had much more chemistry with Mercutio and Benvolio (who were both excellent)--and even with Tybalt--than with Juliet, who was acting a 13 year old without really seeming to engage with the actual character--or anyone else on the stage.  I found her most affecting when Romeo wasn't actually present, although what she did with the potion speech was kind of disappointing.  The Nurse was far too young to have suckled a 13 year old, and wasn't actually very funny.  But Friar Lawrence.  Ah!  Friar Lawrence.

When we saw this at the Delacorte in Central Park a few years ago, Friar Lawrence was a doddering old fool--also a very bad actor.  He didn't ruin the play--both Romeo and Juliet were excellent, and the production was interesting--but he certainly brought comic relief where it wasn't really needed.  This Friar Lawrence, on the other hand, was smart, strong, genuinely pious, and also a bit of a political intriguer.  He had a character, a temper, and an agenda, and more lines than he usually gets when the director is focusing entirely on the romance and less on the political turmoil that surrounds it.  The effect of all this was a Romeo and Juliet that was as much about the futility of one man trying to fix a political mess by emotional means as it was about star-crossed lovers, and a Friar Lawrence who will remain the gold standard of the part for me, probably forever.  I can't find my program, so I don't know who the actor was. 

It's running until October 24, and the theatre wasn't at all full last night.  I bet there are discount tix.  Go see it if you can.  It's not perfect, but it's very, very interesting.