Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Romeo & Juliet Sparkles Anew

Romeo & Juliet @ Chernuchin Theater
For the first 30 minutes or so of the Tragedians of the City’s production of Romeo And Juliet, it isn’t clear why this play has been mounted with an all male cast.  This version of Romeo And Juliet is not done from a gay angle, nor is it camp.  The female roles are played by men, simply dressed as women, no extra padding wigs or make up.  And, in the beginning, this causes some distracting titters among the audience.
But as the story proceeds, the casting brings fresh illumination to the story, as it is stripped to its most basic elements.  Everyone knows the story, so much that we barely notice it anymore.  It is the basis of stories diverse as West Side Story, Shakespeare in Love and Gnomeo & Juliet; as well as multiple different filmed versions of the original, edited for time and rewritten.
John Early (left) as Juliet captures Romeo's attention (Michael Piazza)
But in this essential format, the focus is on the story and the play. Romeo And Juliet is, at its heart, a beautiful play; which sometimes get lost in the event.  This production makes excellent use of the Chernuchin Theater’s, often difficult, layout; constructing a multilevel venue, and then utilizing it effectively (Scenic / Lighting Design excellently done by Garbriel Evansohn).  The Director, Anya Saffir, and the actors make dynamic use of the stage, filling the theater with life, energy and testosterone.
As Romeo, Michael R. Piazza, is wonderful.  Mr. Piazza brings to life the young hero, impetuous and lovesick.  His transformation from jilted lover of Rosaline to devoted admirer of Juliet occurs in an instant - when he glances to see Juliet, and then pulls her gaze by shear force of will.  It is in that scene, that the audience forgets that a young man is playing Juliet.
As Juliet, John Early has the more difficult task.  Juliet is a child, not yet 14 in the play, and Mr. Early must be both innocent and aware of Juliet’s sexual awakening. Mr. Early pulls it off, and is never distracted by the scattered laughter in the opening scenes.  A few of his mannerisms, the flutter of hands or straightening of the dress, seemed a bit forced early on, but as Juliet is consumed by love, his performance grows.
Most of the remaining performances are good to great.  Paul Corning is correctly dashing and rakish as Mercutio.  And nowhere is the casting of men in the female roles as successful as it in with Glenn Hergenhahn as The Nurse.  Mr. Hergenhahn plays the nurse for all the laughs that Shakespeare has written into the part, and doesn’t go over the top.  When The Nurse’s emotions and love of Juliet are expressed later, his dramatic timing is as perfect as his comic timing.  It is a wonderful performance that makes Juliet, her charge, all the more real to the audience.
Well though-out music has been written and incorporated into the play, by Cormac Bluestone.
This Romeo And Juliet will bring the story to life for the audience anew, and is recommended for anyone who thinks they know the story too well.
Romeo And Juliet at The Chernuchin Theater at American Theater of Actors
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Anya Saffir
Cast: Michael Piazza, Paul Corning, Sam Dash, John Early, Paul Eddy, Chris Hale, Matt Hanson, Glenn Hergenhahn, Will Irons, Dan Johns, Vladimir Margolin, John-Michael Scapin, Scott Walker and Ben Weaver
Runs Through: March 17th

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