Review: ROMEO AND JULIET by New Adventures at Center Theatre Group

A deliciously irreverent reinvention

By: Feb. 05, 2024
Review: ROMEO AND JULIET by New Adventures at Center Theatre Group

Matthew Bourne has certainly crafted a “New Adventure” under the title Romeo and Juliet. Purists may come up empty-handed if they mine the kaleidoscopic geometry of the mesmerizing opening sequence for any semblance of “Two households, both alike in dignity”. Rather, when the curtain falls to reveal Lez Brotherston’s sterile set design (disarmingly similar to Anthony Ward’s design for New Adventure’s Nutcracker!), aside from the smarmy, boldfaced text announcing the locale as the “Verona Institute”, one might not be able to divine anything related to a Montague or a Capulet.

Instead, a story begins to unfold about the power dynamics between the guards and orderlies of the Institute and their adolescent inmates. It is only when Romeo is dropped off by his parents that elements of Shakespeare’s story begin to poke through, and Bourne becomes unrelenting in his commitment to crisp, clean storytelling. The trio of Mercutio, Balthasar, and Benvolio are gayer (in every sense of the word) than in any other staging of Prokofiev’s ballet. The trio perfectly embodies a childlike playfulness which Bourne has sprinkled throughout the piece. Though perhaps not the composer’s original intent, Prokofiev’s ‘Montagues and Capulets Suite’ provides irreverently delicious underscoring for a sanctioned party gone awry with unbounded horniness upon the exit of the chaperones.

The power dynamics played out in the opening imbue a new level of tension to the familiar story, but I question if they are necessary. The piece succeeds mostly when it sticks to the tale Shakespeare left us without the added weight of conceptual trappings. Paris Fitzpatrick’s Romeo seems to become a cartoon character in the balcony pas de deux, wafting about the stage with hearts in his eyes for the girl he met at the dance. Monique Jonas’ Juliet is introduced with a Doris Humphrey-esque stoicism which melts and gives way to an electric effervescence. The two are captivating as they share weight in pairings which joyously refer to modern dance with a wink to classical ballet. Cameron Flynn’s Mercutio is equal parts mischief and bravado, taking court as the boyish prankster whose death sets the whole action unraveling. As his lover, Balthasar, Jackson Fisch is resolutely masculine. The passion between these two lovers highlights and legitimizes the raging hormones which drive Shakespeare’s original plot.

The North American premiere of this ballet is an unquestionable success. While it sometimes gets wrapped up in unnecessary trappings, at its core, the narrative Bourne has woven is dramaturgically riveting. The company is uniformly excellent and the simplistic white color scheme makes way for the dancers and choreography to shine. Bourne continues to be a master of popular storytelling, weaving an innate theatricality and sly Queerness into everything he touches.