Every season brings several Romeo or Juliets produced in New York. Logic would have it that, if a theatre company is going to do one of the most often-produced plays in history, then they'd better have something new to say about it. Shakespeare NYC did quite the opposite, and rather let the play say pretty much what Shakespeare must have wanted it to say. There was nothing new here, but it was a quality production that will certainly stand out among the other gimmicky productions that tried a little too hard to find new things to say.
The great thing about this production was that director Beverly Bullock didn’t fiddle and tinkere, or try to cut the play down to a bite-sized modern chunk. It was set in Verona, and in the early Renaissance (the program even pointed out that was specifically the second week of July). The text was edited, but only slightly so, and few patrons would even have noticed the cuts (no one but a hardcore Shakespeare geek would be offended by the absence of some of the Capulets’ wacky servants). Despite the cuts to a few of the scripted clowning moments, this production was actually funnier than most. It was still a tragedy, but there was certainly a lot of wit being thrown around, mostly from James Beaman as Mercutio and Eric Conley as one of the zany Capulet servants.
Bullock’s set and costume designs were right on target. Period finery was present, with close attention given to all characters as with Paris’s slightly foppish duds. There were a few wiggy-looking wigs on some of the ladies, but this wasn’t too intrusive. As for sets, a curtained pavilion dominated the stage, serving for an assortment of locations, and was even sturdy enough to serve as a balcony.
The star-crossed lovers themselves (Peter Richards and Katherine Kelly Lidz) were both well-cast and charming. They were supported by a strong ensemble too, particularly their Friar Lawrence (Anthony Manna) and Beaman’s Mercutio.
For a mushy love story, there sure were a lot of people getting stabbed with swords in this show. The stage combat for this production of Romeo & Juliet was frenetic and elaborate, often filling the stage with combatants. Unfortunately the choice of choreography often came across as too safe-looking.
There have been a good number of gimmicky, splashy productions of Romeo and Juliet over the past few years that have striven to hammer audiences over the head about how universal the play’s themes are. Shakespeare NYC proved that it doesn’t take references to the Gulf War, or Tupac & Biggie to appreciate this show. When given a chance to stand on its merits, it's a wonderful piece of theatre, and this production is a good reminder of why it's a classic to begin with.
(Also featuring: Peter Richards, Katherine Kelly Lidz, Peter Herrick, Marca Leigh, Jonathan J. Lidz, Eric Jorgensen, Jared Waltzer, Geoffrey Dawe, Vanessa Elder, Daniel Barr, Michael Ernest Moore, Nicholas Stannard, Sidney Fortner, Matt Stapleton, Benjamin Rishworth, and Gretchen Howe.)
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Copyright 2006 Charles Battersby