Review ROMEO AND JULIET: Deny Thy Director and Refuse Thy Production
Regrettably, it's the stage-long row of flames that rises from the floor and makes the occasional dramatic cameo that provides any kind of heat in director David Leveaux's soggy production of Romeo and Juliet. Despite the presence of some fine actors who manage to light some sparks here and there, this gimmicky rendering of Shakespeare's tale of adolescent lust gone tragic is curiously lacking in tension, passion, romance and, for some cast members, clear diction.
Leveaux divides the Capulet and Montague families along racial lines but the animosity between them comes off more like class warfare. Chuck Cooper gives Lord Capulet a clipped, erudite accent and a somewhat comical portrayal of cultured wealth that eventually erupts into a dangerous fury. Roslyn Ruff's Lady Capulet is all sinewy elegance and their intended son-in-law, Paris, is played by Justin Guarini with a bit of corporate nerd cuteness.
Condola Rashad, who has been essaying some excellent stage performances in recent years, seems to have been instructed to smile a lot and look pretty. Her overly sweet Juliet lacks any interesting texture, particularly when compared with Orlando Bloom's Romeo; a performance that conveys a stronger, natural-sounding command for the language and its nuances.
Leveaux interprets Romeo as a sensitive biker dude, making his initial entrance on a vintage motorcycle wearing torn jeans, a white t-shirt and, in a nod to recent controversy, a hoodie. His pal Mercutio (Christian Camargo) resembles a 1990s punk rocker with an Elizabethan flair, with his mortal wounding a bit cheaply played out for laughs.
Brent Carver and Jayne Houdeyshell provide the evening's most effective moments as a gently philosophical Friar Laurence and a quirky, but businesslike nurse.
Designers Fabio Toblini (costumes) and Jesse Poleshuck (set) don't firmly suggest any specific time/locale except being somewhat generically in the last 40 or 50 years. The sparse set features a large, low-hanging bell, a balcony that's more of a skeletal platform and, most prominently, a background mural that seems suggested by Verona's Wall of Love; a large faded fresco, presumably on a building's exterior, that has been graffitied with numerous hearts containing the names of lovers.
Alas, my seat was too far away to clearly read the names. I was hoping some wiseguy might have snuck in a "Katherine & Petruchio" or maybe "M + Lady M."