Romeo and Juliet

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Gregory Wolfe
Sanford Meisner Theatre
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Ian Reed

Monique Vukovic is surely one of the all-time great Juliets, whose "infinite variety" encompassed every Shakespearean heroine first as the traditional Juliet, the radiant, enraptured womanchild; then Ophelia-like driven to distraction by news of Romeo's banishment; then like Cleopatra in pawing at Romeo's body after a night of love-making; as Joan of Arc in sacrificing herself to a heart-stopping potion; and as Lady Macbeth anticipating she might "dash out my desperate brains."

Vukovic was equally an instrument of heightened passion and of piercing Shakespearean logic.

Indeed all the actors brought refreshing textual clarity. Jason McKay was an agile Romeo, though needing more of the character's vulnerability and poetic nature; Cynthia Kaplan was a witty Benvolio doting on Romeo; and Gregory Sherman was aptly mercurial as Mercutio until the agony of his impending death, which he privately reveals to Romeo with the words: "I was hurt under your arm."

Among the older characters, Timothy Joseph Ryan as Friar Laurence, muscular of action and voice, cared deeply for the young lovers; Suzanne O'Neill's creation of Juliet's buxom nurse was uniformly matter-of-fact throughout, which at times brought welcome levity but elsewhere trivialized the tragedy; and Gary Desbien as Juliet's father gave a throat-shredding tirade which peaked too early.

Gregory Wolfe's direction was bold, original, and effective, by, for example, suddenly and dramatically freezing the ensemble's medieval dancing, choreographed by Lisa Jacobson, to introduce Romeo and Juliet to each other in their dream-like "holy palmers" sonnet. Later, a similar device created the stark, ironic horror of Juliet's "Gallop apace..." monologue, which celebrates her imminent loss of virginity, by staging it among the frozen aftermath of the brawl that simultaneously slew her cousin and exiled Romeo.

Certain choices, such as the creation of female characters for Benvolio and Old Montague, gradually established credence. But the sharing of Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech by an ensemble of Romeo's kinsmen, with choreographed mime, while keeping the action lively, nevertheless tarnished the "fresh-minted" quality of Shakespeare's fantastical images.

Purists might rue the substitution of real swords in the tragedy's many fight scenes, choreographed by Sherman (Mercutio), for cuts delivered by straight arms. Yet the complete absence of props, other than a few gloves, which served as vials for potions or as sheaths for weapons, served to emphasize the essential human element.

The lighting work of Zdenek Kriz made brilliant use of Lowell Pettit's longitudinal set design, with its symmetrical flanks of pillars and recesses, especially by discovering Juliet lying in a circle of light prior to what is normally known as the "balcony scene." Later, Juliet returns to that same circle at her premature funeral.

It all served as an opportunity to see the Juliet of a lifetime.

(Also featuring Katherine Keane, Marlene Mujica, Kevin Mann, Amy Stiller, Gretchen Greaser, Christopher Haas, and Gia Buonaguro. Sound Design, Joe Goscinski; stage manager, J.O.S. Hartung; martial arts consultant, Nikon Davis.)

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 2
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1996 Ian Reed

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