The Ridgelea Reports on Theatre -- "Romeo and Juliet" at Yale Rep

By Tom Nissley

There are several things that a company must structure in order to have a successful "Romeo and Juliet." First of all, I suppose, is will we be able to find a good nurse? (Well, of course, a fine Juliet and a competent Romeo, too). Then, how shall we make it possible for Romeo to climb, unobserved, onto the balcony of the Capulet’s house? Will the argument between Mercutio and Tybalt work? Can Juliet’s mother seem hard-hearted enough? Her father adequately abrupt? How shall all the cliche’s be spoken? Will Father Lawrence be young or old? And sets, costumes, what of these?

With all these questions spinning before her, Director Shana Cooper has put together a credible production of the famous play, available at Yale Rep, in the University Theater, through April 2. The premise of the production is that boys who have been formed into rival gangs by their upbringing and hormonal thrust create indelible problems for the rule of law and the essence of love. The opening scene, of fighting youths on the streets of Verona, is mirrored in the background of the final scene in the graveyard, as the prince exits murmuring the tribute to "Juliet and her Romeo." (Whether Will Shakespeare intended that to be murmured could be debated, of course, but it deals with one cliche, so to speak). And as the youths’ testosterone continues to bubble in the background, there is an implication that the handshakes of the despondent fathers will not stop their fighting long, even if "the feud" is concluded.

Po-Lin Li has created a beautiful and very flexible set, with rocks along a sea wall in the background just beyond the arena defined by a raised house and balconies on three sides. Romeo (Joseph Parks) is enough of a gymnast to swing on and hang from the struts under the balconies, from which he can also reach up and clasp hands with Juliet (Irene Sofia Lucio). Ms. Lucio is beautifully young in the early scenes, easily taken for the fourteen year old girl Juliet is meant to be. I thought that she aged a little too much after her quick night in the marriage bed - her voice sounded deeper and her movements tougher - but she caught and shared the despair of a daughter being abused by parents that is so well delineated in the script... Lady Capulet (Christina Rouner) showed her own frustration with marriage to Lord Capulet (Andy Murray) by shrugs and grimaces that worked very well. And the Nurse (Cynthia Mace) lived up to all the wonderful neurotic expectations for her role, which is one of Shakespeare’s funniest and most demanding characters. Peter (Seamus Mulcahey) added a few delightful comic moves. And Friar Lawrence (Henry Stam), neither a youth or an old man, gave a fine performance, as well.

The choreography was terrific. Between workouts with push-ups and complicated fight scenes and complex dancing at the masked ball, and general quick movements in the midst of hugs and gestures often associated with physical theater, there was plenty to go around. The costumes, which tended towards modern dress, were fun and extreme.

There are lots of reasons to see this sophisticated and brash production of "Romeo and Juliet," and I hope you will.

"Romeo and Juliet" plays thru April 2 in New Haven. Tickets and schedules are found at www.yalerep.org.

 

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