Romeo and Juliet- LOL Luv u 4 Eva Marry Me? :(

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Romeo and Juliet, Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Chris Aldreide, CMAldridgePhotography

Here’s the thing about Shakespeare:  what you don’t want to happen, as an actor, is a scene in which (after the Sunday matinee, it’s always the Sunday matinee) an old lady comes up to you, grabs your arm in that way that only an old lady really can and says “Oh my God, honey, you were so good!  You memorized all those lines!  Good for you!”.  If this happens, it generally means that you were performing the bard with your eyes unfocused, seeing the page in your head and reading it word for word, the way I used to memorize facts for AP American History tests.  Mercifully, Romeo and Juliet, now at Spotlighters, mostly avoids this and that right there could be considered a triumph.  Now, if you were paying attention in high school instead of fantasizing about fucking that deep and dark art guy in the back of the class like I was, you should know the plot but I’ll take you through it anyway:  The Montagues and the Capulets are fightin’ yo.  These original Hatfields and McCoys can’t seem to put a lid on it, making the Prince of Vernona (Joshua Thomas), all pissy.  Romeo (Patrick Gorirossi), the only son of the Montague clan, spends his days hanging around mooning over a variety of women and clowning around with his buddies.  One night, those Montague wags decide to go stir things up over at the Capulet crib.  At the dance (some things never change) Romeo sees a sweet honey and instantly falls in love with her, which appears to be kind of his MO.  It’s Juliet (Caitlin Carbone), who is (gasp!) the only daughter of the enemy clan.  They dance, they swoon, they kiss.  Juliet’s Mama (Ruta Douglas-Smith as Lady Capulet), the sort of mother who probably should have just eaten her young and gotten it over with, has other ideas, namely to marry her fourteen-year- old daughter off to the County Paris (Melanie Glickman) – cast here as a woman which is, you know, as sexy as it is nonsensical.  The two crazy kids marry in secret and then much confusion ensues when Romeo stabs Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt (Lee Conderacci) after misunderstanding some petty street fighting between the former and Romeo’s friend Mercutio (Adrian Graham-Chesnavage), who also gets knifed in the brawl.  Romeo is banished from the town and Juliet loses it, trying a desperate plan to swallow a potion that makes her appear dead without actually being dead (kids – this is never not a good idea) and, well, if you know nothing else about this story, you sure as hell know the end of it.  Director Lance Bankerd understands something critical about this story: it’s not about love.  It’s about punishment.  Romeo and Juliet, when executed correctly, should not make you all OMG, ROMANCE!.  It should make you go “What in the literal hell is wrong with the adults in this town?  How could they have set up a situation where something like this could happen?”.  Bankerd’s stroke of genius came in the casting of the star-crossed twits themselves.  Gorirossi’s lithe and small stature (with more than a hint of androgeny) contrasts excellently with Carbone’s lanky and slightly awkward physicality, emphasizing the sexual dimorphism that is actually apparent in kids of that age; chaperone a middle school eighth grade dance sometime and note how the girls tower over the boys.  They both bring breathtaking teenage realness to their parts-watch as they giggle and look confused when Friar Laurence (Jeff Murray) mentions sex, even obliquely-that made me warm to them instantly.  One of my companions said that this production was the first time he had ever honestly enjoyed the famous balcony scene – and I agree.  Carbone is a wonderful Juliet.  No fainting violet, she’s weird, a little clumsy and, shock of all shocks, actually really comic, a breath of fresh air that I liked very, very much.  We sense that, in a few years, this would never had happened to her Juliet because she’d be too busy filling out college admission forms and way into model U.N.  That is not to discount Gorirossi, however.  I liked him in even a small part in this winter’s Into the Woods, also at Spotlighters, and I was pleased to see him really do his thing here.  I was fascinated watching him.  He makes Romeo into what he really should be – a kid.  A kid who throws petty tantrums and who is kind of like the fairies described in Peter Pan: so intense that he can only really have one emotion at a time because it fills him up and makes him crazy.  For all of his boyishness, though, he manages to create a fair amount of heat when he needs to and it’s really fucking great to watch.  Nicely done.  Favorites for me among the supporting cast included Justin Johnson’s Benvolio, played with a nerdy edginess that I really enjoyed (he’s the friend in high-school that all the girls say things like “God, I’m going to marry someone like you someday!” to and then run off to smoke with the guys that hang out behind the gym) and I thought Jeff Murray had some pleasingly weary moments as Friar Laurence, though with an admittedly puzzling accent.  Melanie Glickman was turned into a fucking quick-change artist with all the parts she had, but she was quite an effective lady Paris and had both the best fight and death scene, which is saying something in a show with a five person body count.  I’m torn on Adrian Graham-Chesnavage’s Mercutio.  While he was funny and really pretty cute he was pushing pretty hard for my taste (THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID).  I liked the fire in Lee Conderacci’s performance of Tybalt, she was cool if a little much with the crazy-eyes.  Wasn’t feeling Nicole Mullin’s Nurse though – again with the weird, inconsistent accent and she was rushing her bit.   Ruta Douglas-Smith seemed a little off her game, stumbling on some of her lines and appearing kind of one note for Lady Capulet, although she had a pretty good scene with Juliet near the end.  Oh!  And Anthony Chanov was fucking adorable in his little part of Peter, the Capulet servant who can’t read.  I love when an actor in a small part brings some style to it.  Getting technical, the set (designed by Alan Zemla) was kind of a snore but served its purpose with the best part being a large open coffin-like box in the middle of the stage (I’ve got your foreshadowing right here, bitches!).  You throw the dice with seating at Spotlighters and this time I lost.  I couldn’t see a lot of the action that took place in the left corner of the room so I advise you to sit on the side closest to the door.  Costumes by Marie and Richard Bankerd of something called House of Bankerd were lush and pretty but a little bizarre: we had ancient Grecian togas, Aladdinesque Middle Eastern fantasy (a metal bra made an appearance) and some touches of Cleopatra because what the hell.  It  reminded me of the MGM backlot of the 1940s – I sort of expected some cowboys, a Roman gladiator and a gorilla to wander through.  Two things I actively disliked:  the sound design by Heiko P. Spieker II and fight choreography by Teagan Williams.  While William Georg, the live percussionist, was excellent at his job and clearly a pro, the music and sound effects were a real turn-off.  Twee at best and terrible at worst, the instrumentation (which I initially thought was a xylophone but one of my companions informed me was actually a marimba – whatever it was, I wanted to kick it) should be cut, cut, cut.  Sound effects at key points-and I mean every key point-make it look like Bankerd thinks his audience is too stupid to recognize when something important is happening.  Did. not. like.  The fight choreography was distractingly bad and takes you out of the show.   It looked like little kids playing pirates on the lawn.

BOTTOM LINE:  It’s not the slickest Shakespeare I’ve ever seen, but some dresses are prettier when paired with dirty feet and God knows I love the rough stuff.  This show succeeds or fails on the backs of a pair of stupid luv-struck teens and succeed they do so succeed it does.  This Romeo and this Juliet somehow escape the dusty, solemn, dead page and dare to actually live and actually breathe and that is a delight.  In fact, honestly?  That is worth the price of the ticket.  Recommend.

Running at Spotlighters until February 16th

SECOND OPINION?

‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Spotlighters Theatre by Amanda Gunther

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