Romeo & Juliet
nytheatre.com review by Akia Squitieri
July 22, 2005
Everyone knows the classic tale of Romeo & Juliet, star-crossed lovers bound to each other but kept apart because of an age-old family feud. Cry Havoc’s artistic director Kitt Lavoie has chosen to push the envelope and take the classic one step farther, with a very original spin. Lavoie and his ensemble ask “What if Romeo and Juliet were women—and that fact didn’t figure into their family’s reasons for wanting to keep them apart?” It’s an interesting question and one that they pose but leave up to the audience to answer for themselves.
Director Lavoie sets his version of the love story against a dark landscape of teenage angst-ridden love and friendship, filled with oversized leather jackets, smoking friars, and stirring violin music. The love story between Romeo and Juliet played by two women works considerably well. However, the duo portray the trials and emotional highs and lows of adolescence more successfully than their love for each other. There isn’t much passion, but there is a real sense of urgency, much like a teenager running amok without direction.
It's especially interesting to watch the interaction between Romeo and her friends, as there are subtle differences. Now Benvolio seems to take on the role of a “big brother,” and the group's gentle gibing takes on some boys' club mockery towards Romeo. Particularly intriguing is Mercutio and Romeo’s friendship, which has an added bit of sexual tension.
There are some slow moments, which are very noticeable because of the teenage temperaments of the leads. There are extreme highs and lows in energy and pacing.
Jenny Kirlin’s Romeo shifts between boyish charm and childish brattiness, moving about the stage at a frenetic pace. Kirlin is accomplished at portraying a reckless youth, grasping at anyone who will help her plight. Juliet, as played by Jane Pftisch, is solemn and dark, but is without much of the traditional vulnerability of the character. She engages in some self-mutilation, plays soulful violin, and shows rebellious bravado in the pivotal scene of confrontation with her father.
Being familiar with Lavoie’s work, I am always impressed with his eye for piecing talented ensembles together and his knack for creating brilliant landscapes of relationships. In this production, the smaller roles are filled with some stellar actors, notably the sublimely cast Will Harper as Friar Laurence, who brings remarkable sharpness, presence, and energy to this often overlooked character. Harper has great passion in every moment and line he delivers. Effectively portraying a mother who has long lost touch with who her child has become, Kerry Flanagan as Lady Montague brings self-involved and distant parenting to new heights. Christopher Cooper as Benvolio is a significant presence each time he takes the stage. Skilled with a sword and a quick tongue, he's an actor I’d be eager to see more of in a larger role. Graeme Gillis as Mercutio is a delight to watch as he delivers witty gibes and banter. Also notable is the performance of Ewan Ross, who plays a sinister and suave Tybalt.
As much as I enjoyed watching these characters, I spent much of the production straining my ears to hear. There was an ongoing projection and sound issue. The ensemble needs to work on this, as the high ceilings seem to swallow up all of the sound from onstage.
The fantastic abstract set of layered scaffolds, balconies, brick walls, and underpasses serves the production well, allowing quick movement and working hand-in-hand with the dark torrent of the story. The lighting, on the other hand, while in line with the tone of the production, robs the audience of the actors' faces in too many scenes; there are lots of shadows and several scenes are in nearly complete darkness (both sets and lighting are designed by Gabriel Hainer Evansohn). I did however love the use of flashlights in the tomb scene, and I am a huge fan of working interior set lights and enjoyed the charming lamppost.
The costumes by Jennifer Reichert were simple and effective but also added some fun moments like the (all female) guard clad in leather corsets.
Putting the occasional slow moments and projection problems aside, this is a solid production with brilliant production values, and is well worth a look.