If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

A MODERN DRESS “ROMEO” TAKES THE YALE STAGE

 

What did you expect from Yale Rep?  A traditional production of “Romeo and Juliet”?  We should be grateful that director Shana Cooper spared us a Romeo clad in spandex and glitter or a Verona reset on Pluto!  As it is, this modern-dress rendering of Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy is distracting in ways having little to do with its time period.

This is a “Romeo and Juliet” that seems to be in constant motion.  Beginning with an energetic (if none too convincing) street battle between the young Capulets and Montagues, the play pauses just long enough for our star-crossed lovers to meet at a “ball” that looks more like Mardi Gras.  Director Cooper’s intention is probably a good one – this young love is fast, reckless and dangerous.  But what is seriously lost in the momentum is the time to get to know these people and their motivations.  Granted the production flies by and I was never bored, but at what cost?  Most of Cooper’s young cast are ill-equipped for the language with much of Shakespeare’s poetry squandered along the way.

More success is found in Act Two when the grown-ups in the drama have more to do and the younger actors (most of who look like they’ve spent more time in the gym than studying the classics) take a back seat.  Christina Rouner makes for a regal, passionate Lady Capulet while Andy Murray is forthright and commanding as her husband.  Cast against type, Cynthia Mace as Juliet’s Nurse grows into the role convincingly as does the Friar Lawrence of Henry Stram.   Graeme Malcolm’s Prince displays significant authority in his few effective scenes.

As Romeo, Joseph Parks sports a marvelous physical presence and would probably be more successful if it were not for the woebegone Juliet of Irene Sofia Lucio.  Miss Lucio rarely projects the true ardor of a young woman finding herself deeply in love for the first time.  Mr. Parks is also given little support from John Patrick Doherty, a charmless Mercutio or Seamus Mulcahy, needlessly silly as Peter.  And though impressive of physique, Marcus Henderson's Tybalt is all bluster.

Most distracting, however, are some of Ms. Cooper’s bizarre directorial touches: The Capulets having cocktails and smoking on the balcony above R&J’s marriage bed.   Romeo jogging in place during a torrential rainstorm.  Gravediggers shoveling dirt on Juliet’s body.  Wouldn’t she smother?  And wouldn’t Romeo then have to dig her up?  It’s ludicrous.  There also seems to be no defined entrances or exits in several of the play’s interior scenes.

The spare scenic design by Po-Lin Li is functional and costumer Leon Dobkowski has attired Miss Rouner beautifully (but shouldn’t Lady Capulet have a costume change for her daughter’s wedding day?)   High school students may ultimately enjoy this breathless and youthful production more than their teachers.  But they both deserve better.

 “Romeo and Juliet” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through Saturday, April 2.  For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

This review first appeared in Elm City Newspapers beginning on 3.23.11.

 



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