Saturday, January 25, 2014

Romeo and Juliet under the Portico

Tinkering with Romeo and Juliet is a venerable theatrical pastime.  I have seen lesbian productions, gay productions, blue-men-in-Tahiti productions, even a sci-fi production set on the planet Venus.  Spotlighters' new production of the Shakespeare classic moves the setting gently backward to ancientGreece.  The result is a neo-classical, black-and-white tragedy stripped of the Renaissance pageantry.

The concept works quite well.  The lines of conflict in this complex family feud are crystal clear.  The tragic passion of Romeo and Juliet burns at white heat from beginning to end.  The ominous role of Friar Laurence, who in mistaken benevolence guides the star-crossed couple into an illicit marriage and into a fatal game of poisons, is underlined by his elaborate side-stage chapel and laboratory.  The clean neo-classical set by Alan Zemla, the lighting design by Fuzz Roark, and the costumes by Marie Bankerd all give a moonlit, dreamy atmosphere for Lance Bankerd's spare direction of the work.

Patrick Gorirossi (Romeo) and Caitlin Carbone (Juliet) place an unusual spin upon the romantic couple.  Gorirossi is a slightly-built, athletic Romeo who leaps around the stage as his infatuation for Juliet mounts and as he sinks ever more deeply into Shakespeare's lush metaphors for sudden love.  Carbone towers over him, a woman clearly older, more mature, and more self-possessed as she moves majestically around the stage.  One has the impression of a young student stunned by the beauty of his statuesque teacher---and of the teacher who immediately returns the forbidden desire.  The enthusiasm and passion of the doomed lovers only deepen as the plot thickens and the poetic riffs become more desperate.  In their speed of delivery, however, some of the more complex sentiments and poetic devices of Shakespeare remain unmined.

An excellent supporting cast gives the production further vigor and focus.  The stentorian Jeff Murray creates a Friar Laurence who is both wise and foolish in his efforts to help the unhappy couple.  His charity is balanced by his incompetence in the contrived affair of the poisons, doomed to backfire.  His closing speech of repentance is moving rather than pro forma.  Nicole Mullins's ebullient Nurse energetically brings both comic relief and added pathos to the deteriorating romance of Juliet.  Opening and closing the play with philosophical lines on the folly of fratricide, the Prince is customarily presented as an omniscient, god-like figure.  Joshua Thomas's prince, however, is refreshingly laid back.  He speaks more quietly than the rest of the cast.  He is often seated on the floor or partially hidden behind a pillar.  His is not the voice of magisterial declaration in the center of the town square.  His is a weary, world-worn voice of a sympathetic observer who has seen too much civil violence and who is well aware that his peace policies, such as banning duels and banishing Romeo, have little chance to alter the self-destructive human condition.

This tunic-and-portico version of Romeo and Juliet capably opens up the multiple tragic lines of the romance through its ensemble acting, firm direction, and stark neo-classical look.

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