Romeo and Juliet
nytheatre.com review by Pamela Butler
March 13, 2008
[Note: There's a good comprehensive synopsis of Romeo and Juliet in Sparknotes.]
If you like Shakespeare, or if you just like this play, or, if you've never seen Romeo and Juliet before, you owe it to yourself to see this current production by TBTB (Theater Breaking Through Barriers). Four actors, two hours, no intermission, and the play. You might think some wary thoughts, but if your experience is like mine, the time will melt away as you get pulled into the energy and emotion of the story.
Both TBTB's website and the program highlight an interesting historical note about the 16th century troupes playing Shakespeare's works. There were probably only a few actors, from four to seven, doing all the characters. Imagine a group of young boys, with one or two adults more or less supervising, "playing" across the countryside. Some were probably just teenagers. Ike Schambelan, director (and co-artistic director of the company), has conjured what it might have been like back then with this thoroughly modern and enlightened production. Entertaining the idea that the play is written as a quartet, he has also found a great rhythm for the action and the characters.
Gregg Mozgala and Emily Young capture the souls of the two fiercely passionate, ridiculously inexperienced lovers, without giving up a second of being immediate, earnest, and just like 14-year-olds. They get to the heart of what it is to be so brash, so sure, and so naïve. It can break your heart. But these two feisty players also put in fine appearances as Mercutio (Young), Lady Capulet (Mozgala), and a host of well-turned others. Young's characterization of Paris is a comic delight. Combined with his very witty attire by Chloe Chapin, this Paris is hilarious.
George Ashiotis. with great appreciation and humor, gives us, most notably, the Nurse, but also the Friar, Tybalt, Montague, Gregory, Old Capulet, Capulet's servant, Paris's page, apothecary, musician, watchman, citizen, and chorus member. And he's got a good take on all of them! Knowing that he is blind makes his grace and confidence on the stage all the more impressive. The scenes he has with himself in various alter egos are even funnier because the actor is in on the joke with us.
Nicholas Viselli fills out the ensemble with large and distinctive portrayals of Capulet, Benvolio, and his own host of supporting characters, bringing clever and comic detail to each. He has an amazing ability to change his posture and body language to create completely different and whole individuals.
The set by Bert Scott is a clean and functional geometric design on a small stage and it includes Juliet's balcony and the crypt without sacrificing a sense of space. Nothing seems superfluous and combined with equally effective lighting, it beautifully complements the action.
I'm a fan of costuming so I have to admire Chloe Chapin for her ability to capture these characters and help define, amplify, and have clever asides with her choices. Lady Capulet's oversized pearl earrings and turquoise linen jacket on Gregg Mozgala made me laugh out loud. There is no period dress here, or any overall look. Attire is completely character-driven and much of the humor comes from that imaginative and comic touch in accessories and wigs.
This is a company that clearly is passionate about what they do. Theater Breaking Through Barriers was formerly named Theater by the Blind. Their new name embraces more of what they are; a dedicated groups of serious and professional theater people, some of whom may also happen to have a disability. It is in their mission statement that they wish to keep it in the public eye that the blind and other disabled individuals are first of all talented, intelligent people capable of many things, more things than many people would ever imagine. They also seem to be having a great time doing what they do. ( I always thought that's why they're called "plays"). They certainly stand behind their stated raison d'être with this production. I look forward to seeing more of their work.