Saturday, June 16, 2007

'O that I were a glove upon that hand'

Remember my proposed Shakespeare moratorium? I often petulantly demand that people take a break from Shakespeare. I'm not quite ready to say my mea culpa on that one but I was mightily impressed with the current Shakespeare in the Park production of Romeo & Juliet. I discussed the production in brief at Zoom In yesterday and I normally wouldn't repeat myself this quickly but I can't help it. R&J won't leave my head. Go see it. Line up early for those free tickets. It runs until July 8th. It's too good to miss.

Aside from the extremely well judged staging (a deceptively simple set, a pool of water, great pacing and energy, believable stage combat...all in the open air of Central Park --gah, a thing of beauty) I appreciated its point of view. It really gets at the irrational nature of the young lovers. That's too often demoted to subtext, in order to exalt the Great Love.
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden.
The production is more consistently excellent than the assembled performances but there were two true standouts. Mercutio (Christopher Evan Welch) absolutely nails every scene and works play-shifting wonders in the 'plague on both your houses' death scene. And then there's the sweetest flower in all this field... Lauren Ambrose as Juliet. Six Feet Under fans will know that she can act up an teen-angst storm. Psycho Beach Party fans will recollect that she has amazing vocal range and control --remember that her split personality came complete with wholly separate voices. She puts both of these abilities to expert use here. I'm not a Shakespeare connoisseur by any means, but she's the best Juliet I've personally ever seen. Brava!


Anonymous said...

"It really gets at the irrational nature of the young lovers. That's too often demoted to subtext, in order to exalt the Great Love."

Yes. I obviously haven't seen this production (I live nowhere near NY) but I've always felt Romeo & Juliet should be played more from the angle of how confusing and emotional adolescence is rather than from the 'This is the Greatest Love Story ever told' angle. I've always been offended by the notion that Romeo & Juliet is some great love story - I mean, they kill themselves! That's not love, that's psychosis. But it really is a pretty good look at how harrowing adolescence can be, and especially at how insensitive adults can sometimes be to the plight of teenagers. That's why it always seems off to me when adults are playing the lead characters (as in 'Shakespeare in Love,' which I think missed the point of Romeo & Juliet completely).

Ok, sorry for the verbosity.

Anonymous said...

I love Lauren! Psycho Beach Party, Six Feet

I knew she'd hit it out of the park.

DL said...

Hey, go check out IMDb quick!!! You're Action Heroine Blog-a-thon is on the Hit List.

Hedwig said...

Wee! I feel somehow closer to you now, since I visited New York (just came back one week ago) and saw this production on the first night it played. It was the highlight of my trip. I entirely agree with you on Mercutio: the queen Mab speech usually doesn't do much for me, but he made it one of the most poignant moments of the whole play.

If you'd like to read more about the trip:

Marius said...

Yes, I LOVE Lauren, too. I dedicated a post to her (sort of) a while back on my blog. I'm glad you liked her performance in R & J.

adam k. said...

That's an interesting take on R&J. I'd never thought about it that way. But come to think of it, West Side (which I love) does sort of pull out that angle, adding to the mix the heated passion of racial bigotry.

Funny, Jess, that you bring up Gwyneth Paltrow being an "adult" when playing Juliet, cause she was actually a good bit younger than Lauren Ambrose when she did it. Gwyneth was only 26 when Shakespeare was released, and was likely 25 during filming. Ambrose, on the other hand, is 29 (!) right now, even though she still looks (and can act) like a teenager. Hard to believe that Gwyneth is still only 34, despite having been famous for what seems like forever.

Boy, I'd love to play Mercutio. I had lotsa fun recently with Gratiano in Merchant.

WickedScorp said...

The SIX FEET UNDER finale still devastates me.

VW said...

Do I ever wish I lived in NY - This R&J sounds very interesting, the last one I saw - at a summer Shakes festival out west - was performed as a yuck-yuck comedy. No - I'm not kidding. It was so bad I left at intermission - something I never do. The concept in the production you describe of downplaying the romance a bit is refreshing. Now if only someone would stage this with appropriate aged performers as R&J.

Piece of theatre history for you - in the 19th century an actress named Charlotte Cushman played Romeo - one of her famous "breeches-roles." What about doing that today?!

adam k. said...

Well, the reason it's never done with 15-year-olds is cause they're very rarely up to the task. 20-somethings are often better at playing teens than teens are... especially in heavy roles. Sure, there's the occasional Evan Rachel Wood, but that's rare.

Unknown said...

A major highlight of my last trip to New York, back in 2003, was seeing Shakespeare in the Park. It was Liev Schreiber in Henry V that year. One of the best pieces of free entertainment I've ever experienced.


have to agree with adam here. most teens can't pull off shakespeare. i mean, hell, most adults can't.

anyway. it doesn't so much downplay the romance (romeo & juliet 100% believe in their love after all) as downplay the accepted reality of said romance... which is really supported by the text i've always thought. There are many references to the speed at which they're hurtling towards calamity... they just met, after all.

the set revolves in this production too which i thought was a very cool touch because when juliet or romeo or anyone else is exiting a big scene and they're switching the set they're all moving SO quickly because the ground beneath is turning too (you know how quick you walk on a moving walkway) which adds to the overall impression of this world just spinning out of control for all of the characters.

everyone acts rashly in this play don't they? supporting and leads alike.

Anonymous said...

Ok, maybe I should say - it's not so much that I think that the characters need to be played by teenagers. But I think that their adolescence is a crucial part of who the characters are, and it's a better story when that comes across (and it often doesn't imo.)

I should clarify too - it's not that I think the romance should be downplayed. After all, that's what the entire story revolves around.
But I also don't think that the whole suicide thing should be glorified - as it almost always is - into something romantic.
They don't kill themselves out of love, they kill themselves out of being lost and confused.

Also I may have overemphasized how much I think of it being about teenage angst. It's that, but it's more complicated than that. You have the politics of the two sides feuding over really nothing - and two innocent people stuck in the middle of it.

The point is, I think there's a lot of interesting ideas in Romeo & Juliet that usually get pushed to the side for the sake of the romance.

And yes, I think West Side Story is better at portraying a lot of that than most productions of R&J.

Anonymous said...

Man, I miss Lauren and I miss Six Feet Under so bad.


jess --oh I absolutely agree that the youth needs to come across (and also that it often doesn't)

VW said...

I entirely agree with you, Jess, about the handling of their suicide. It's not romantic or glorious - and, yes, should be more along the lines of West Side Story.

As for the age thing - teenagers can handle it - no not most - but there have been some pretty good teenage performers - Jodie Foster or Diane Lane in their youth? River Phoenix? Etc. With actual teens the world would finally see Shakes' story for what it is - maybe . . . And I think the "superior" acting skills of more seasoned performers can potentially overshadow the youthful poignancy of the roles.

OK - I'm done speech-making! Sorry Nathaniel - can you tell I'm a bit opinionated when it comes to things theatre? It's a long story . . .