One of the most-produced works of Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet has been produced countless times. While it’s still a crowd-pleaser when set in 17th-century Verona, its universal themes of forbidden love and pointless feuding hold up in just about any setting. The American Globe set their production in a modern (if not postmodern) era, with the rival houses as cliques of club ravers. With its very young cast, sexy costuming, and rock-music soundtrack, the Globe created a distinct version of the Bard’s classic.
Right from the first scene, director John Basil’s unique vision was present, as the rival families appeared dressed in leather, carrying shields made of hubcaps, and fighting with pipes and whips (rapiers and broadswords were in the mix too). Unfortunately, the liberal use of vinyl and leather clothing simply screamed Matrix. The sporadic use of trenchcoats and sunglasses furthered the Wachowski brothers feel (as did the rock music playing during some of the fight scenes). Luckily, the Matrix similarities ended with the costume design.
Adding to the distinctive style of this production was the cast. Extremely diverse from a racial perspective, and relatively young too, this was a very modern group of Capulets and Montagues. The script is rather specific in saying that Juliet "hath not seen the change of fourteen years," and also points out that in Verona it was common for grown men to marry girls even younger than that. It's hard to find a production where the actress playing Juliet looks 13, but Basil pulled out all the stops and cast a leading lady who could pass for 12. The tiny waif-like ingénue, Sara Dobbs, wasn't even shoulder high to the rest of the cast, and was usually costumed in Mary Jane shoes and ruffled ankle socks. The modern setting made Paris's pursuit of her come across as rather lecherous, and a bit disturbing, especially in the masked-ball scene (here depicted as a rave with Juliet in a vinyl minidress). Fortunately Romeo, as played by Robert Lee Taylor, could pass for a teen.
Basil also chose to play up the script's funnier points. Several of the scripted clowning moments were cut, but much humor remained, often coming from Mathew J. Sanders, who played both Balthazar and Peter. Terence Archie played his Mercutio with more than a bit of humor as well. At the other end of the comedy/drama spectrum, Rainard Rachele gave an excellent supporting performance with his portrayal of Friar Laurence.
Jim Parks’s costume design took Basil’s concept to the extreme and made a very striking look for the play. Kevin Allen’s set was made of several platforms, with a small staircase (that doubled as a balcony). Footlights were used to give these set pieces a glowing look that worked well during the masked-ball scene (lighting design by Mark Hankla).
While this wasn’t an Earth-shaking re-envisioning of a classic, the American Globe’s production was an extremely distinct Romeo and Juliet and one with a modern look that upheld the standards of this respected Off-Off-Broadway company.
(Also featuring E. Calvin Ahn, Scott Asti, Lavetta Cannon, Michael Gatto, Natalie Caamano, Gary Lamadore, Debra Lewis, Julia McLaughlin, Alyson Reim, Alisa Claire Schneider, Graham Stevens, Peter Von Berg, Warren Watson, and Chuck Worthington.)
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Copyright 2004 Charles Battersby