BWW Reviews: ROMEO & JULIET Is a Comedy?
To Austin area High School English teachers, I sincerely apologize if any of your students see The Baron's Men's current production of Romeo and Juliet. If they do, they may enter your class with the false belief that Shakespeare's play about impulsive, horny, and eventually suicidal teens is meant to be a comedy. It's not. The words "A Tragedy" sometimes even accompany the title. The only tragedies of this production are the over three hour running time, the direction that plays the majority of the story for laughs, and the fact that The Baron's Men, while claiming to have great reverence for the Bard, would do this to one of Shakespeare's greatest works.
Visually, the production is stunning and wonderfully appropriate. Dawn Allee's Elizabethan costumes are gorgeous, and there's something about seeing Shakespeare in the Curtain Theatre, a replica of The Old Globe, that is always magical. And the production also features a strong Juliet. Played by Lindsay M. Palinsky, this Juliet is a likeable albeit spunky and rebellious teen.
But that's where the successes of the production end. Most of the performers don't look comfortable with their characters or with Shakespeare's language. Director Liegh Hegedus fails, for the majority of the production, at showing even the most basic of understanding for the material. The entire first act is played as a comedy, and not a very funny one. As my guest said at intermission, "It feels like a bad 1990s sitcom with pretty costumes but a missing laugh track." Hegedus partners every one of Shakespeare's double entendres with a distracting physical gesture, something I criticized in Baron Men's 2013 production of The Merchant of Venice (directed by Christina Peppas). We really don't need someone to gesture at his crotch when he says "My naked weapon is out." We get it. It's a penis joke. Right there in Shakespeare's famous language. The added gesture is about as unnecessary and distracting as if the actor turned to the audience and added the line "I'm talking about my penis."
And then the unneeded and out-of-place humor continues for most of the overlong first half. I'm not saying that a Shakespeare tragedy should be completely void of comedy. A good director knows when and where comic moments are welcome and necessary. They do not throw in comedy in moments where it doesn't serve the tone of the scene, such as Mercutio's climatic swordfight and death. Yes, you read that right. Mercutio's death is played for laughs. Really, all of Mercutio's moments are played for laughs. Granted, when you have a comedic genius like Eva McQuade playing Mercutio, I can understand why the knee-jerk reaction would be to play up the humor in all of Mercutio's scenes. Still, McQuade is more than just a comedic actress. She's an actress with a capital A. She can play drama just as easily as she can play comedy, and using her only for laughs is an insult to her talents.
What makes the direction all the more problematic is that there are moments when it's actually passible. There are some moments that are well-staged and clearly thought out. Romeo & Juliet's first meeting and the famous balcony scene are simple, romantic, and perfectly staged (It's worth noting that the balcony scene is the only scene that receives applause after its conclusion). Hegedus's direction is also far better in the second half. There are still several moments that miss the mark, but overall the second half feels like the drama that it should be. Still, that puts it at odds with the horrifyingly comedic first half and makes all of the missteps that preceded it more glaring. It makes it clear that some part of Hegedus knows what this play is and what her production should be, and yet we still start with an abysmal and out of place ninety minutes of un-funny comedy.
Running time: 3 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
ROMEO & JULIET, produced by The Baron's Men, plays The Curtain Theatre thru Saturday, 4/26. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $15. For tickets and information, please visit www.baronsmen.org