Romeo and Juliet
nytheatre.com review by Gyda Arber
May 25, 2007
Walking into La MaMa's production of Ellen Stewart's Romeo and Juliet feels like walking into a time machine to the off-off Broadway of the mid-1960s. The diverse and mostly young cast, the many locations utilized in the space, and the roving audience members bring to mind the early days of the independent theater movement.
Stewart has loosely adapted Shakespeare's play into a sung-through theatrical event. Several scenes are omitted entirely, or moved out of order, but much more interesting are Stewart's additions, namely the introduction of the Nurse's lover, Peter; a scene with Romeo and his earlier love, Rosaline; a circus act interrupting the battle between Tybalt and Mercutio; a lovely pas-de-deux between the two lovers; and a trio of young maids who act as an occasional Greek chorus.
The lively and appealing music, by Stewart, Michael Sirotta, Genji Ito, Heather Paauwe, and Yukio Tsuji, carries us through the play, though some of the themes repeat quite frequently. Kanako Hiyama's lush costume design easily evokes the Italian Renaissance. Set designers Jun Maeda and Mark Tambella have the unconventional challenge of creating a number of sets in different locations throughout the space, and suggest the locales with a minimum of decoration.
The cast is mostly young, and many can't quite handle the musical demands of the piece, with the notable exception of the Nurse, played by the lovely and full-voiced Meredith Wright in the standout performance of the evening. The title characters are charmingly portrayed by Noshir Dalal and Malaika Queano, though the apparent age discrepancy (Queano's Juliet appears to be, as the script states, a very young 14, while Dalal appears to be in his mid-20s) is occasionally uncomfortable. The traveling circus, though coming out of nowhere, amuses with belly dancing, two trick bicycles on platforms, a bearded lady, and pantomime show.
La MaMa has been around for 45 years, and it's great to see that their wonderful theatrical tradition, begun in the 1960s, continues unabated. Despite Romeo and Juliet's occasional weak points, the show is worth seeing for the blast-from-the-past factor alone. One can only hope that Stewart's work continues for another 45 years.