Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Romeo & Juliet casts a spell, for a while

If there was ever an actor born to play Romeo, it is fair Orlando Bloom.  He is all huge gestures, heartfelt and honest, whilst wearing his heart on his sleeve.  Cast as his Juliet is the wonderful Condola Rashad, veteran of Broadway.  Together they play the doomed lovers Romeo and Juliet in the new production at the Richard Rogers Theater.

Clocking in at a swift 2 hours and 20 minutes with an intermission (swift for Shakespeare), this Romeo and Juliet relies on an audience familiar with the ideas in the play and with some excellent performances to fill in the narrative gaps.  And in the first half it all works well.

Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad
Orlando Bloom is very nearly perfect in the role.  Whipsawing from heartfelt loss at his unrequited love towards Rosaline to the joy and rapture upon seeing Juliet, Mr. Bloom is a young man ruled by emotions.  His inhabits Romeo’s athleticism, his grace and his awkwardness with equal ease.  He grows in the character - making this a wonderful Broadway debut.  Condola Rashad, as Juliet, is the child who grows into womanhood when loves finds her.  They have an immediate chemistry that makes the love story believable and pure.

The first act is all bounce and enthusiasm, which makes for a lovely first half - but doesn’t set the stage for the tragedy to come.  This production is dressed in a purposefully unspecified time - the frescos covered with graffiti, the clothes a mixture of jeans and elegant hippy, the walls and balconies made of rock and wood.  It is beautiful, but it works against idea that there is blood feud between the Capulets and Montagues.  Modern enemies rarely have blood feuds. 

In this production, the fight that opens Romeo and Juliet is more posturing than confrontation.  The dressing of it as a gang fight is deflated by the lack of ferocity.  It has all the authenticity of the gang wars from West Side Story – the Musical.   (Romeo’s entrance on a motorcycle is just an inane choice, signifying nothing – the less said of it, the better.)  These Capulets and Montagues might as well have argued over a parking spot or had a bidding war for a condo.  Theirs' is a feud of hurt feelings and prestige.  The Real Housewives of New York are more threatening.

The choices make the first act easy and fun, but the same choices deflate the second act.  Both Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths are accidental and thus Romeo’s punishment, in context of a modern story, rings completely false.  We barely meet Mercutio, Christian Camargo making the most of the slimmed down role.  And we never see Tybalt in anything but a negative light, so it is a credit to Corey Hawkins that we feel anything at all in his death.  Romeo’s banishment is thus an odd choice.  And why doesn’t Juliet go with him?  And why does he get a horse back to Verona, did his motorcycle break down?  (Damn, I wasn’t going to mention the motorcycle again.)

Roslyn Ruff, Condola Rashad and Jayne Houdyshell (photo by Playbill)

Great and unique performances are given by Chuck Cooper as Lord Capulet and Jayne Houdyshell as Nurse.  Both these two excellent actors are grounded and believable, partially because their choices are consistent with the show and the time. Ms. Houdyshell gives the Nurse real heft, although I admit to missing the comic relief the role usually brings.  And Mr. Cooper rules the stage as a true Lord of Verona.

Directed by David Leveaux, this production of Romeo and Juliet almost hits the mark.  The fact that it misses is all the more frustrating given the excellent performances that go into it.
Romeo and Juliet
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: David Leveaux
Cast: Orlando Bloom, Condola Rashad, Brent Carver, Jayne Houdyshell, Chuck Cooper, Christian Camargo, Roslyn Ruff, Conrad Kemp, Cory Hawkins, Justin Guarini

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