No one ever tires of “Romeo and Juliet,” a tale of young love thwarted by poor choices, bad luck, and warring families.
So the production of the Bard’s beloved comedy-turned-tragedy at Shakespeare Theatre Company, directed by Alan Paul with a bold vision, is welcome.
This is certainly an intriguing production, from the lavish, garish multipurpose set to the sexualized encounter between Romeo and Juliet near and on the balcony and the “other-worldly” lights that flash when Friar Laurence appears.
[Alan] Paul also has elicited many fine performances. Two in particular—Andrew Veenstra’s Romeo and Jeffrey Carlson’s Mercutio—are alone worth the price of admission.
But I found myself questioning a few elements. Certainly, presenting a Shakespearean work in modern dress is not a novel idea. But since “Romeo and Juliet” was extremely popular even in Shakespeare’s time and remains one of his most frequently performed works, it’s hard to understand why Paul, associate artistic director of STC, felt compelled to ensure that teenagers who attend performances see people who look and dress like them.
I’m sure that teenagers—and adults—can relate to the play as originally set. In fact, despite “Romeo and Juliet’s” universal implications and resonance for today, it probably makes more sense in Renaissance Verona.
Some of the action seems exaggerated, such as the physical gestures adding to the sexual imagery Shakespeare already provides. Romeo’s repeated stabbing of Tybalt, Juliet’s kinsman, seems to go counter to his gentle (if impulsive) nature, even if he’s enraged over Mercutio’s death.
A few directorial choices are odd: Tybalt takes out a gun as he lay dying because of a knife fight. The fights, in general, seem too long and wild.
Purists will probably note a few deviations from the script. Paris, for example, doesn’t appear in the tomb and challenge Romeo.
On the other hand, there were many nice touches, such as demonstrating the affection between Capulet and his wife. This makes starker their difference of opinion over how to deal with Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris.
Paul also has elicited many fine performances. Two in particular—Andrew Veenstra’s Romeo and Jeffrey Carlson’s Mercutio—are alone worth the price of admission.
Veenstra is a poetic (and attractive) Romeo, totally believable as a young man in love with love who grows up instantly upon meeting Juliet. Moreover, he seems to have a tangible glow that separates him from the violence and hatred around him.
Mercutio, of course, has some of the best lines in the play. Carlson injects them with all the cynicism, insight, and underlying pathos they deserve.
Ayana Workman persuasively looks and acts like the 14 Juliet is. She is flighty, rebellious, and in search of her own identity. Workman’s strongest scenes are with Veenstra; the two have wonderful chemistry.
Other standouts are Keith Hamilton Cobb as Capulet, Juliet’s father; Jimmie “J.J.” Jeter as Romeo’s friend Benvolio; and Ron Menzel as Friar Laurence.
Paul’s concept of the Nurse is different from the usual one—more humorous with vulgarity, as opposed to serious with humor. Regardless, Inga Ballard is memorable in the role.
In general, Paul plays up the humor in the first act so much that the second act seems to be a different play. Of course, that heightens the shock and tragedy at the end.
But loud laughter by a highly appreciative audience (at the September 19 performance) during the first act was almost disruptive.
There’s no question the red-tinged set (blood, plushness?) is one of the production highlights. Dane Laffrey, scenic designer, created the inventive set, which changes only in particulars.
The work of Kaye Voyce, costume designer includes Romeo’s dress-down outfit, Mercutio’s bright-yellow suit, and Lady Capulet’s low-cut gown. Jen Schriever’s lighting design enhanced the set’s versatility. Daniel Kluger is the sound designer and composer. Erin Sean Fogel choreographed the very modern party scene, and David Leong staged the fights vividly.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Sexually suggestive gestures and language’ violence; mild sexual content.
“Romeo and Juliet “continues through November 6 at the Lansburgh Theatre (of the Shakespeare Theatre Company), 450 7th Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20004. For tickets and information, call 877-487-8849, or click here.