Saturday, February 20, 2010

Review of Romeo And Juliet

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm a contributing drama critic for a theatre website, Theatre Vault. Last night I saw a production of Romeo And Juliet, and, since I share everything else with you, here are my remarks.
“Not Your Mama’s Romeo & Juliet.” That’s what the advertisements proclaim for Rosebriar’s production of this Shakespeare classic. Director notes in the program start with “This production is unabashedly post modern.”


In other words, don’t go in with any preconceived ideas.

The script tells you that the play is set in fair Verona. The production, however, is set in the basement gymnasium of the Groveport Elementary School. Down a flight of concrete steps, turn left, and you are seated on either side of a basketball court. The floor is plastic covered, and a total of four stage lights set the no-frills mood. Ten minutes before the production is supposed to start, the actors casually wander in, chat with the audience, theoretically rehearse, and play this slightly choreographed variation of musical chairs. At a given time, with no announcement, the volume picks up, and you are aware that the show has begun.

I love that! I’ve always enjoyed mixing performers into the audience areas, and since everyone is modern dressed, until the show starts, you’re never quite sure why the person sitting next to you is wearing a sword.

Under the direction of Steve Emerson, the focus for Romeo & Juliet is less about the two lovers, and more about the constant – and bloody – feud between their two families. Since the facility for this production is a literal basketball court, the similarity was not lost between the performers and two teams jockeying for position from one end of the field to another. The atmosphere works.

For the first half of the play, the pace is set fast – too fast. Shakespearian dialogue requires careful interpretation and expression at the best of times. Even the playwright himself warned actors to “speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc’d it to you, trippingly on the tongue …” This didn’t happen here. Words spat out like machine gun fire. To keep pace, physical characterizations were also larger than life. There were moments when I could have been watching a Charlie Chaplin silent movie … with people talking … fast.

But I could be unfair in my judgment. (And I don’t say that often.) I base what I see, after all, on how I would see it done. At the very beginning I was warned this would be a “different” production. Could this rush to present one scene of mayhem after another be the result of sophisticated design? If so, it was done well. If it was by accident, the effect was still achieved. In any case, the pace slowed, starting with the famous balcony scene, and demonstrated that these people really were equipped to perform the roles they were given.

Everyone in the cast had their moments. A few stood out, and not always for the right reasons.

Manny Flowers. In a cast of loonies at the beginning of the play, he appeared almost stiff and formal. As the others settled down, he loosened up. By three-quarters of the way through the show, I was looking forward to his appearances.

Rudy Frias. Energy – he carried enough for everyone in the cast.

Heather Green. A competent actress. It’s unfair to suggest (but I’m gonna do it anyway) that her best role was as a diminutive barefoot creature looking like something you’d buy on a stick at the County Fair. Endearing.

Angie Palmer. Another competent actress. Ms Palmer is a strong presence on stage. Whether speaking or merely standing there, she draws the eye.

Krista Threadgill. Of all the performers in the play, she gave the consistently best interpretation of the lines – a fine actress. (And a wonderful angel.)

Daniel Smail and Chris Tressler. Among others they filled space, made transitions, were here and everywhere setting up and tearing down. Not easy and often not appreciated.

Curtiss Stewart Jr. and Sarah Gehring. As Romeo and Juliet, they were fine when apart, but disappointing in both passion and chemistry when together. Only occasionally did their declarations of love ring true.

Rosebriar’s production of Romeo & Juliet will continue to be presented in the Groveport Elementary School Gymnasium through (dates.) As a suggestion, a pizza place with atmosphere is less than a block away. Dinner and a show could provide a quite pleasant evening of entertainment.


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