What surprised me most about this production of "Romeo and Juliet" was not its relevance (surely if any play has earned the term "timeless" it's this one), but the intensity with which the audience engaged in the drama. Director Sharon Ott has given the play a solid and honest mounting. In the first act she emphasizes the breezy infatuation of the two lovers, and the testosterone-driven horseplay of boys pretending to be men. The second act vividly displays the hopelessness and extremity of Romeo's exile, and the bitter consequence of impulsive choice. It's a faithful and straightforward interpretation, and while there's little that's innovative or daring, right now this sad tale of young blood foolishly shed in the name of old animosities is resonant and convincing.
The two leads are attractive and accomplished, speaking their romantically ensorcelled lines with clarity, delight and innocent passion. James Ginty is a Romeo who avoids being too foolishly dreamy, and appears simply more mature than the other ruffians and rascals around him. That contrast is made particularly striking by Tom Story as a Mercutio whose energy, rude gamboling and sexually charged taunts make Romeo's pure love seem all the more precious. Ginty uses his youthful virility to simultaneously be one of the guys and a man separated by a deeper character.
Cynthia Boorujy is quite a lovely Juliet, tiny and delicate, but with a strength of character that confirms her independence in the household and earns our respect. I especially admire Boorujy's ability to seem very young and at the same time fully old enough for such serious action. The relationship between Romeo and Juliet may lack some of the depth of real tragedy, but it certainly is convincing as impulsive, infatuated romance, and we never forget that these are the passions of very young, very foolish children.
Laura Kenny gives a standout performance as the Nurse, alternately crude and unfinished or wise and warmly maternal. The parents of both households are somewhat indistinct. They are authority figures with little individual personality. Ted D'Arms as Friar Laurence is very good, asserting a strong presence and driving the action in convincing manner. The gang of boys from both families are excellent, with Tybalt (Hans Altweis) distinguishing himself enough to make his death terrible for all.
The production is handsomely mounted, with Ralph Funicello devising a dark and rather fearsomely overwhelming set of tall, black walls, doorways to even darker chambers, and rooms without warmth or comfort. Excellent costumes by David Murin sustain the play's shifting moods, creating both the elegance of the ball, and the sobriety of the tomb. Peter Maradudin lights it all with subtlety and expertise.
In the director's only false moves, there are intrusions of modernity. The prologue is amplified, late in the play investigators arrive in the tomb, dressed in black suits and carrying guns, and as the play's epilogue is delivered there is a brief burst of machine gun fire in the background. It's all unnecessary and clumsy. We don't need help to understand the relevance of this play to our own world, our own children, our own foolish and impulsive choices. Sharon Ott's achievement in this production is to let the story insist itself into our own experience, and to let us recognize the sound of that immediate violence in our own world. It is quite loud enough, and quite immediate enough without needing to be physically realized. The play has survived with such impact for reasons that need no underlining, and everything else in this production makes that point quite convincingly.
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