No weapons at all, no balcony at all, no prologue, no scene of Lady Capulet begging for vengeance; no Finn Wittrock (the rising star who played Troilus so heroically in CSC’s AGE OF IRON seasons ago, but withdrew from his announced casting as Romeo), no William Hurt (the splendid actor who was initially announced for Friar Laurence) and, perhaps not so strangely, no fight choreographer listed in the program (though Casey Robinson is pictured in a CSC brochure). And hardly any life.
If Ms. Alagic’s intention was to divest this magnificent romance of its inherent splendor and vitality, she has done her job. Only the creditable performances of Friar Laurence (the excellent Daniel Davis), Lord and Lady Capulet (David Garrison makes his pivotal scene work, and sexily costumed Kathryn Meisle makes sense of her character’s much-cut arc), a surprisingly full-bodied and beautifully spoken Benvolio by McKinley Belcher III, and the gorgeous promise in Elizabeth Olsen’s deeply felt Juliet do Alagic’s death-delivering direction a disservice.
Why scale everything back so that the production might as well be a grey, sterile fashion shoot, except, perhaps, that the director is straining for an originality reminiscent of drama school exercises? Why cast a Romeo who looks striking in repose but cannot transcend his irrevocably hard “r”s and who lacks the requisite initial melancholy, jubilant romanticism or really anything but some authentic, tear-y, ragged rage in his later scenes? Why saddle your clearly talented Juliet with an off-white, slip-like costume which denies her any chance at modesty and clod-hopper boots on her feet? Why eliminate the balcony itself, forcing the two lovers to pretend at an impediment to physical consummation? And one wonders what the charismatic T.R. Knight, with his remarkable voice, was told to do with Mercutio other than make him a generically passionate misfit. Mercutio can be gay-ish, he can be schizophrenic, he can be malcontent, he can be resolutely misanthropic, he can even be the voice of the playwright, but there must be some careful logic to his psychology or else the actor is left to squander his gifts at the service of nothing, as he does here. Daphne Rubin-Vega, balancing carefully on some silly-heeled shoes, is out of her sassy element as the robust, huge-hearted Nurse, and that she was encouraged to play Latina for all she’s worth seems a very condescending choice.
The opening lighting effect is nice, and the music serves to underscore some of the otherwise non-existent suspense. But anyone expecting to perceive more than a glimmer of Shakespeare’s sumptuous canvas should stay away. Oh, yes, there is a silver curtain that is brought in for the “masque,” and the pointless wit of the masque’s costumes draws some attention to itself (Romeo wears a big, yellow Winnie-the-Pooh head; I kid you not). The Gregory and the Tybalt are adequate, and Stan Demidoff scores points as the ruffian Sampson (despite the senseless interpolations of Spanish into his dialogue), thanks in part to an exquisitely muscled, bared torso. The otherwise undeniably talented Marsha Ginsberg’s reputation is not at all well-served in her set design, a flat grey wall and a wood floor with some architectural digest chairs and one long table, here.
I am left thanking my stars that I was witness to Michael Greif’s vastly emotional, watery production at the Delacorte some seasons ago, and that I can still remember Lauren Ambrose’s divine Juliet therein, a goddess for anyone’s idolatry.
ROMEO AND JULIET by William Shakespeare directed by Tea Alagic at CSC Repertory
Set Design by Marsha Ginsberg; Costume Design by Clint Ramos; Lighting Design by Jason Lyons; Original Music and Sound Design by Ryan Rumery; Dramaturg: Megan E. Carter; Managing Director: Jeff Griffin; Production Stage Manager: Raynelle Wright;
Cast: Chorus/Friar Laurence: Daniel Davis; Sampson/Paris: Stan Demidoff; Gregory/Friar John/Watchman: Harry Ford; Mercutio: T.R. Knight; Benvolio: McKinley Belcher III: Tybalt: Dion Mucciacito; Montague: John Rothman; Capulet: David Garrison; Prince: Anthony Michael Martinez; Romeo: Julian Cihi; Lady Capulet: Kathryn Meisle; Nurse: Daphne Rubin-Vega; Juliet: Elizabeth Olsen
CSC Repertory, 136 East 13th Street, just west of 3rd Avenue, runs through November 10, 2013 (classicstage.org), written by William Shakespeare, directed by Tea Alagic