Directed by Tea Alagic
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Anyone attempting to assist students (high school or college) grapple with the multi-layered meanings in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” ought to be banging down the door of Classic Stage Company’s box office to schedule a performance for their classes before this scintillating and often disturbing production of the Bard’s classic closes on Sunday November 10, 2013. The rest of the population – groundlings though we be – should be clamoring to get to the box office before the faculty does.
Wizard Tea Alagic performs pure thaumaturgy in her direction of this forward-thinking production. Although this “Romeo and Juliet” is staged intentionally to demonstrate the permanence of Shakespeare’s text in the literary canon, Ms. Alagic’s visionary direction also brilliantly overlays the text with exquisite and disciplined acting by an ensemble cast whose craft handily counterpoints the text. Marsha Ginsberg’s minimal set, Jason Lyons’ hypnagogic lighting, and Clint Ramos’ contemporary costumes further distinguish this offering as an exemplary success for minimalist theatre.
Eschewing the reading of the Prologue and a substantial number of lines at the end of Shakespeare’s text of “Romeo and Juliet,” director Alagic chooses to focus her attention on characterization and conflict development, particularly the conflicts which drive the rich plots surrounding the protagonists’ almost urgent attempts to find and celebrate authentic love. All of this dramaturgy is accomplished because of the resplendent performances of Julian Cihi (Romeo), Elizabeth Olsen (Juliet), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Nurse), and Daniel Davis (Friar Laurence).
Although the performances of these four actors cannot be fully appreciated without considering the stellar practice of the remaining cast, their rich understanding of their characters and their disparate conflicts drive the action of this production forward with almost dizzying velocity. Mr. Cihi’s Romeo captures both the innocence of adolescent love and the angst of a generation struggling for effectual separation and individuation. Ms. Olsen manages to capture the spirit of a young woman physically and emotionally abused by an overbearing and disturbed father (David Garrison) and a teenager desperate to find unconditional and nonjudgmental love.
Romeo and Juliet’s “star-crossed” love is privy to and nourished by their mutual spiritual advisor and by Juliet’s long-suffering nurse. Daniel Davis’s transcendent performance as Verona’s Friar exposes the conflicted soul of a cleric who knows his role is more than confessor. Daphne Rubin-Vega conjures up a Nurse unlike any other on any other stage ever. Her performance is pure and raw genius. After her delivery of the Nurse’s response to Lady Capulet’s attestation of Juliet’s age in Act I, Scene III, the audience might wonder if Capulet was really the biological father of Juliet (compare Hamlet’s problem with his progenitor).
It is difficult to single out the remarkable performances delivered by the remainder of the cast although special mention goes to Harry Ford, T.R. Knight, McKinley Belcher III, and Dion Mucciacito who manage to capture the tortured lives of peers who are divided by ancient and loathsome family altercations.
In some way, it is somewhat unfortunate that the Prince’s (Anthony Michael Martinez) ultimate monologue is not included in this production: “A glooming peace this morning with it brings; /The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:/Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things; /Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:/For never was a story of more woe/Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Perhaps the world outside Classic Stage Company’s space needs “more talk” about the consequences of scorning the familial, governmental, and corporate factionalism that continues to oppress daily headlines.
Readers have only a few days left to be transported to theatrical excellence. Please do not miss this opportunity.