BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at The Wilma Theater
Mercutio raps. Tybalt bumps coke. This is not your grandmother's Romeo and Juliet.
At the Wilma, Romeo (Matteo Scammell) is a depressed skater boy who hangs out with the wrong crowd. But when he meets Juliet (Taysha Marie Canales), a preppy good girl with well-off parents, they discover love for the first time.
Director Blanka Zizka transforms the play to relate to a 21st century audience, but does not stray from the script's original meaning. The show does not attempt to be anything but what it is - a comedy entrenched in tragedy. The parts of the show meant to be hilarious are, and what was line-crossing sexuality in Shakespeare's time is amped up so the older patrons blush. The show features musical transitions much like a 16th century production would feature, but are made up of macabre alternative love songs written and performed by local singer/songwriter Gracie Martin and a "Greek Chorus" of edgy teens.
The show is perfectly casted, and the Shakespearean language -- which can seem overwhelming to decipher -- is a non-issue due to line readings that feel entirely current. Juliet is played with perfect naivete, and her bedroom monologues bring you back to that feeling you can only get as a teenager having a first crush. Romeo, often dramatic and pose-y, reminds you of the insecurity that is inevitably packaged with adolescence. Juliet's parents (Steven Rishard and Suli Holum) are portrayed as busy businesspeople rather than nobles. This serves as an easy way to understand why they'd force their daughter to marry Paris (Matt Donzella), a class president-type, over bad boy Romeo.
What sets the Wilma's staging apart from other Romeo and Juliets is that the characters don't feel archetypal. Each actor plays their role with such relatability that it doesn't feel like the re-imagination of their characters is forced.
The tragic love story plays out against a background of golden fringe. Set designer Matt Saunder's shimmering fabric catches Maria Shaplin's beautiful lighting as it moves, and easily transitions from Juliet's lavish bedroom to the tomb where she and Romeo eventually lie dead. Outside of some chairs and a wall that plays double duty as Juliet's mansion fence and a Verona border, the fringe is the only set design. Because the stage looks so breathtaking and consistent, it is easy to focus on the young lovers' emotion.
The Wilma's Romeo and Juliet proves that Shakespeare is not just for those who have studied the text to be able to understand. At the Wilma, anyone can be a groundling for a night.
The show runs until February 9. Tickets can be purchased HERE.