Romeo and Juliet Review by James Yeara

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Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, directed by Daniela Varon, Founders Theatre, Shakespeare and Company, through September 3.

The only balcony scene is between the Apothecary and Romeo in Act Five; Juliet and Romeo say the traditional balcony scene lines (Act Two, scene two) while sitting in chairs on a bare stage, Emily Webb and George Gibb style.  The mausoleum finale (Act Five, scene three) has Juliet covered in a clean white sheet sitting on a park bench dead center stage, Tybalt covered in white upstage left of Juliet sitting on a park bench, Paris sans sheet sitting on the floor behind Juliet, Mercutio covered in white sheet sitting in the aisle house right, Lady Montague covered in white sheet sitting in the aisle house left, and Romeo sitting next to Juliet on the park bench.  The costuming throughout is white on white or beige on white: button down shirts, trousers, vests, suit coats, dresses.  The setting seems to be the hitherto undiscovered tennis camp cemetery at Grover’s Corner. 

This is a unique production that takes the most taught text in American public high schools  (according to the National Endowment for the Humanities), Romeo and Juliet, and mates it with Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, one of the most performed plays by high schools.  Having recently seen the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet in its NYC summer repertory season, Shakespeare and Company’s R&J suffers in comparison, a shriveling that its As You Like It doesn’t suffering compared to the RSC’s AYLI (both plays were part of each troupe’s offerings).  While performed in remarkably similarly configured stages (the RSC’s portable theater twice the capacity of S&Co’s permanent one), the RSC’s R&J director, Rupert Goold, set his production in a visibly discernible setting (16th C. Verona) to illuminate what familiarity often hides in the text (the fire imagery has never burned literally brighter in the play), whereas the Shaker furniture and aesthetic labored onto the set by Daniela Varon, S&Co’s director of Shakespeare’s greatest love story, obscures the text just as the bare tree branches downstage of the suspended planets and orbital arcs obscure what interest the set could have held; the starkly cool Shaker white feel makes cold sheets for the hot and sweaty Verona lovers, and “it’s a gift to be simple, it’s a gift to be free” makes for a poor romantic ballad.  The four RSC productions also revealed a richness in voices; the fallacy that Shakespeare must be performed with an English accent was exploded by the variety of accents and dialects heard clearly evoking Shakespeare’s words.  S&Co’s R&J had an odd vocal homogeneity.  The stars aren’t the only thing crossing the lovers at the Founders Theatre.

It’s a pity because Romeo and Juliet is an excellent play and there were excellent performances in the Founders Theatre obscured by this directorial conceit, primarily in the scenes of the Capulet household, and especially in the interactions of the nurse with Lord and Lady Capulet that bared their troubled souls: Lady Capulet takes her whiskey much like she takes her marriage, on the rocks.  But it’s an odd R&J when we learn and care more about Juliet’s parents, Romeo’s friends, and Shaker mise en scene than “the story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”











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