by William Shakespeare
Directed by Gadi Roll
American Repertory Theatre
Loeb Drama Center
64 Brattle St. Harvard Sq. / (617) 547 - 8300
Through Mar. 16

Reviewed by Will Stackman

The dramaturg for this production suggests that directors shy away from what may be the Bard's most popular play because they have nothing new to say about it. This observation reinforces the current notion that the playwright can't be allowed to speak for himself but must be reinterpreted from a new, or supposedly original, viewpoint. The result in this case is a loveless production played at full bellow on a formalist stage in eccentric modern dress. Israeli director Gadi Roll, replacing Hungarian Janos Szasz who left to do a movie, has emphasized the violent subtext of the play to the exclusion of humor and romance. The action plays out on a rectangle of dark sand with the audience on two sides of the stage with cast braying their lines, perhaps in attempt to be heard more than understood. This layout is the worst acoustical arrangement for the Loeb Auditorium, particularly since the stage covering itself is sound absorbing, everything is open above, and the entrances at either end are steel grates, thanks to over-praised designer Riccardo Hernandez No wonder the cast seems to be getting hoarse, though dusty particles from the sand may also be part of the problem.

There's no reason why this cast couldn't do a better job of presenting what many suggest is Shakespeare's most carefully wrought and systematically developed plot. ART/MXART grad Mickey Solis has potential as quirky Romeo, the part he was promoted to when the black actor originally cast left over creative differences. Blond Annika Boras, a RADA grad, doesn't need to gallop about the stage in cowboy boots--worn throughout--to demonstrate her youthful exuberance. Molly Ward, seen in December as Masha in "Three Sisters" is acceptably tomboyish as Benvolio, played gender-switched if somewhat irrelevantly. Solis had the part originally. Che Ayende might make an interesting Mercutio if he wasn't yelling every line. ART veterans fare only slightly better. Multiple award winners Karen MacDonald and Thomas Derrah find ways to modulate their roles as the Nurse and Friar Lawrence, though left to their own instincts, they might show more range and some humor. Jeremy Geidt and Will LeBow as Montague and Capulet are solid if perhaps too stiff, and Remo Airaldi as Peter is predictable. LeBow finds some justification in Capulet's frustration given how his family behaves.

Some roles have been interpreted more eccentrically. Elizabeth Hess' Lady Capulet has been turned into a brassy upperclass tart with a drinking problem, while John Campion's Prince Escalus has developed a stammer, perhaps suggesting a similar inability to control his city. Marc Aden Gray's Tybalt is a barechested thug, with no indication why even his family would miss him, unless perhaps he and Lady C. have had somethiong going on. Mara Sidmore has been gender switched into Balthazar, Romeo's page played as a girl, which further suggests that our hero has issues. The whole production falls somewhere between current barebones techniques and directorial excess. Scene changes add to the problem, as minions in black unroll and reroll carpet runners in the dark, also removing and resetting furniture much too often. DM Wood's lighting is part of the mix as various chandeliers, bare bulbs, and flood lights descend and disappear from above. The production is a collection of moments, consistent only in their imposed formalism not much improved by David Remedios' mix of jazz, hip-hop, and baroque.

Last fall, the New Rep inaugurated their new venue with a modern dress production of this same play, which had its problems, but was much more satisfying, reinvigorating the tradition while finding contemporary nuances. There have been various productions around the area, from a four man adaptation seen at the Devanaughn to MIT staffers doing the show in a coffee house, to Commonwealth Shakespeare's Parks tour, and of course several versions by Shakespeare & Co. out in Lenox from which their school touring reductions benefited. These interpretations all managed to find traditional core of the play rather than dwelling solely on its violence. The ART, with its tradition of "No More Masterpieces," has followed its usual course to the brink and over the edge. A new slogan, "No More Auteurs," may be in order.

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