Someone left the cake out in the rain.
I don’t know how, but this production has managed – on the night I saw it – to nearly obliterate passion. I mean the one that counts, the one between Romeo (Orlando Bloom) and Juliet (Condola Rashad). Surprisingly, this is due more to Mr. Bloom, who appeared tired and unfocused in his performance, as opposed to Ms. Rashad who gives it all she has. She still misses the mark, but she is in there swinging with more life and zip than I have seen in her previous performances combined.
We begin with a flash of lightening and a well trained dove who sits as directed on the upper lip of an enormous bell and upstages poor Brent Carver (Friar Lawrence) who delivers the prologue. This is followed by the set up of the two families Capulet and Montague – here racially divided black and white – who have nothing better to do than hang out in the street and beat the crap out of each other. After a bit Romeo enters and is supposed to be in a dither because he is not being treated fairly by love. The woman he desires ahs chosen chastity and Romeo (a teenage male) is about to burst. When he and his chums are mistakenly made aware of a party that night, they decide to crash it – even it if is being thrown by the Capulet family.
On the same day Juliet is being advised by her parents, played with distinction by Chuck Cooper and Roslyn Ruff, that, though her marriage age is two years off, she is being sought by Paris (Justin Guarini) and she better be nice to the guy if she knows what’s good for her. Well, apparently Juliet does not, because when she and Romeo see each other it is all heat-seeking-missile time. They meet, they touch, they kiss for so long and hard that a comic touch is needed to break the moment. Nothing subtle here.
In a touching balcony scene – where Romeo is so brightly lit that for Juliet not to see him she would have to put a bag over her head – the two exchange niceties and love promises. Soon the two are married, but instead of living happily ever after, they are thrown rudely back into their world. When Romeo tries to break up yet another street fight, Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (Corey Hawkins) kills Romeo’s friend Mercutio (a sluggish (Christian Camargo). In the blink of an eye Romeo kills Tybalt in revenge.
Shame and scandal in the family.
Romeo is banished. Juliet is promised to Paris. The Friar gives her the potion with the motion that turns her into a lifeless stature. She is set into the mausoleum. The Friar’s letter to Romeo of Juliet’s death deception is never delivered. Upon hearing the wrong news, Romeo gets his own poison and kills himself over Juliet’s supposed lifeless body. She wakes, grasps the sad situation, and kills herself.
Parents gather to mourn and mend fences. The end. That is just about the way this shakes out. Especially the second act. I am not certain what if anything was cut, but it certainly felt as though text was missing.
Overall, the one actor that consistently seems to get the deal is Jane Houdyshell (Nurse) whose love for her charge, Juliet, is so fierce it is a true and deft match for the lioness-like emotions displayed by Ms. Ruff. We, however, never experience love’s highs and lows in the way that I imagine Shakespeare intended. Neither Bloom nor Rashad heaps their fire high enough to burn down the house. Mr. Bloom greets the new of Juliet’s death as though he were at the end of a long day and someone just told him there was no more single malt, and Rashad’s final moments are so swift they barely stir the air. There are true moments of safe landing here (Houdyshell, Ruff, Carver and Cooper) but the two on whose shoulders this story rests are not strong enough to bear the weight.
A special nod must go to the excellent work of Tahirah Whittington on Cello and David Van Tieghem who is both composer and percussionist for some mighty fine work that achieves lift off more than once. In addition the set is extraordinary, complete with flaming scrims and floating beds and balconies.
With so many technical elements in place, and with a script by you-know-who, this Romeo and Juliet still manages to disappoint. Rather than exploding like fireworks and breaking our hearts, this production was rode hard and put away wet.
ROMEO AND JULIET By William Shakespeare; directed by David Leveaux; sets by Jesse Poleshuck; costumes by Fabio Toblini; lighting by David Weiner; music and sound by David Van Tieghem; hair by David Brian Brown; movement direction by Nancy Bannon; voice coach, Patsy Rodenburg; technical supervisor, Hudson Theatrical Associates; fight director, Thomas Schall; associate producers, Marvet Britto, Willette Klausner, Andrew Carlberg and David and Michelle Williams; production stage manager, Kristen Harris; company manager, Bobby Driggers; general manager, 101 Productions Ltd. Presented by Susan Bristow LLC, James L. Nederlander, Terry Allen Kramer, Merritt Forrest Baer, Paula Marie Black, Stephen C. Byrd, Alia Jones Harvey, Jon B. Platt and Stewart F. Lane/Bonnie Comley, in association with Manny Bello, Peter May, Douglas Smith and Jonathan M. Tisch. At the Richard Rodgers Theater, 226 West 46th Street.