Reviewed by David Spencer
At the Delacorte in Central Park, the Public Theatre's annual offering of free Shakespeare opens with a new Romeo and Juliet. I expect its effectiveness may be largely dependent upon your prior exposure and level of—I use the word cautiously—sophistication. I don't mean to suggest that liking it means you have a lower level of taste or discernment, but rather that it may well all seem much fresher to an eye that has never before seen this kind of grab bag of contemporary acting styles, nor perhaps never seen some of the older supporting players (Austin Pendleton as Friar Laurence and Camryn Manheim as the nurse—curious it should be those two in those roles—in particular) who are gifted but delivering variations on their well-established personae.
I thought it was okay and energetic for a good deal of the first act—Oscar Isaac's Romeo and Christopher Evan Welch's Mercutio worthy of special attention—but after awhile I began to think energy was all it had, when I was hoping it might be moving, or suspenseful, or even, come to think of it, romantic. (Lauren Ambrose makes a fetching Juliet, but it is telling, I think, that the strongest scenes in the play are not between her and Romeo, but her and her father, assayed by playwright Michael [The Shadow Box] Christofer, giving the most psychologically grounded performance of the production.)
My companion of the evening, however, was quite taken with it. At least enough to say she felt it was up to a good Shakespeare production at any respectable regional theatre (which is, in itself, potentially milder praise than intended—one's points of reference here are everything). But she's far younger than I, new to the city and just starting in the biz here—and she often reminds me of myself before decades of experience added all those additional filters between any given play and my reflexive enthusiasm. (In fact, as we were leaving the theatre, I remarked that some of the performances seemed conspicuously stylized rather than genuine. And my friend asked me to identify the ones I was talking about, so she might be better able to recognize affectation next time it was before her. And I quickly said, "No, jeez, feel it the way you feel it, if you liked what you saw, that's great. You don't have to experience it the way I do." (I hasten to add, she's not that na_ve, but she does have the sponge-like hunger to learn that finds its best carrier in youth.)
So there you have it. I could give you a more in-depth and analytical and detailed review...but somehow I think that tells you all you need to know, and based on that, you can decide whether or not a visit to the production will be worth the day's wait to get in, even on a nice picknicky day. A rose by any other name. Or something. You dig?