BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at Duke City Rep
At the beginning of Duke City Rep's Bard Crawl performance of Romeo and Juliet, cast members explained the similarities between "barroom Shakespeare" type performances and actual Elizabethan theatre (minimal rehearsal, no director, possibly no memorization time). They went on to emphasize the bad rap that Shakespeare sometimes gets as a pretentious, snooty artform, and let us know in no uncertain terms that that would not be what we saw today. They also informed the audience that genders were bent in this production, but "it's 2019 - get over it!"
And then, they asked an audience member to perform the prologue.
It didn't actually happen, of course (a member of the company was selected at random to do so), but it served to remind me, at least, that everyone and their grandmother in that bar had probably read Romeo and Juliet as a freshman in high school... and that for the average audience member, the play could use a little shaking up. The Bard Crawl production did so, and quiet well, in my estimation.
The concept of performing Shakespeare in a bar is not new - famously, there's Back Room Shakespeare in Chicago (I wondered if anyone affiliated with this production had ties to that company, due to similarities in approach), but I've seen similar productions in various bars elsewhere - but the Bard Crawl is, relatively, as this is only their third season. I was a bit surprised, also, to see such a well known tragedy on the bill for this year. Performing Shakespeare in a bar for potentially progressively tipsy patrons would seem to be more logically a venue for a comedy, so I was a little surprised they'd choose this one already; that being said, Romeo and Juliet is, after all, comedic until people start to die, and the cast was generally very successful in discovering comedy even in tragic scenes. I did find that the more tragic moments held the audience's attention slightly less than the comedic, but ultimately, found that Romeo and Juliet worked surprisingly well in a barroom setting.
The success of the production rests squarely on the shoulders of the cast (there was, of course, no director); the choice to cast both Romeo and Juliet as women was an incredibly strong one, and both women were exemplary in their roles. Amelia Ampuero as Romeo humanized the iconic lover (a daunting role for any performer), and Danielle Robertson played Juliet with far more strength and agency than I have ever seen, to great effect. Katie Farmon and Josh Heard, as Mercutio and Benvolio, respectively, also did a lot to ground the show - their characters are just kids having fun until things get out of hand, and their performances were just right (also, Ms. Farmon showed exactly how powerful a woman's interpretation of Queen Mab can be). The cutting of Lord and Lady Montague was effective, as was the combination of Lord and Lady Capulet (a fierce, commanding Evening Star Baron). As Juliet's Nurse, Jeff Andersen has both the comedic and dramatic chops for the character (and I've personal always been a fan of the idea of casting the Nurse with a guy, anyway). Josh Browner's Tybalt was very level (and clearly informed by the text, which I commend), and Frank Green's Friar Laurence had a wonderful, chaotic good energy, as well as fantastic presence. Michael Lovato had the exact charm that Paris needs; Alan Ramos lent the production significant gravitas as the Prince, and last but not least, Maizie Kilgore filled out the strong ensemble with her endearing Peter.
Kai Distler served as the stage manager/prompted (key, as the actors had only run the show once prior to beginning performances, so while they were memorized, it's understandable that there were some moments of confusion - it should be noted, though, that it was part of the experience and in no way indicated sloppiness on the part of the actors).
At a spare hour and a half, Duke City Rep's Romeo and Juliet conveyed the essentials of the show (and a few cuts kind of amused me - Juliet's big "o bid me leap" speech was cut off after about two lines) and was clearly edited and put together by people who know what they are doing, who know how to access the heart of the play and create something fresh and urgent.
The Bard Crawl continues through May 9th at various bars around Albuquerque - go early, get a pint, and be prepared to have a great time.
Seating is first come, first serve. There is no admission/ticket fee, but a $10 per person donation is recommended.
Tuesday, April 30th - Marble Heights Brewery & Tap Room - 7:30pm
Sunday, May 5th - Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. - 2pm
Monday, May 6th - Steel Bender Brewyard - 6:30pm
Wednesday, May 8th - Bosque Brewing Co. - 7pm
Thursday, May 9th - Boxing Bear Brewing Co - 7pm
For more information about Duke City Rep, please visit http://www.dukecityrep.com