A friend of a friend gave me a ticket to last night's Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet. I thought, why not? I think Condola Rashad is quite talented and I certainly love me some Shakespeare. I don't think I've seen a theatrical production of R&J for years, but I've seen the ballet at ABT repeatedly over the years. Plus, the show started at 7pm! As a lazy old person, that was also a selling point. :)
Well, I didn't really consider last night's performance to be a success. There were certainly some pretty aspects and there was some nice acting here and there, which intermittently engaged me, but golly, this was a rather inert and passionless rendering of Romeo and Juliet. I definitely got more passion in last summer's production at ABT. All the production shots below are from the internet - they were all taken by Carol Rosegg and my standard disclaimer applies.
I think there's a good stage actor somewhere in Orlando Bloom, but perhaps this wasn't quite the right choice for him. I did think he did well with the opening scenes, where he was a glib guy's guy, talking about love for talking's sake, and he had a nice rapport with Brent Carver as Friar Laurence. But he had no chemistry, none, with Condola Rashad's Juliet. And, once he started to try to be more 'intense,' it didn't come off well. At one point, he was practically throwing a tantrum and started yelling at the audience members in the front row. Which made the audience laugh. I don't think that was the desired response for the 'banished' scene.
Condola Rashad is lovely and also had some very nice moments, but perhaps overplayed the wide-eyed naivte. There didn't seem to be a maturation to this Juliet as the play progressed, which was a shame. And, vocally, to sound younger, she's pitched her voice a bit too high, and that also led to the rather static quality of the production as a whole.
Maybe a lot of the blame can be placed at director David Leveaux's feet. It didn't seem as if he had much of an idea for the production, beyond 'hey, let's cast black actors as Capulets and white actors as Montagues.' Nothing was really done with the multi-racial casting; the show was set in some sort of indeterminate place and vaguely modern time; and most everyone was allowed to pose and indicate rather than think and explore. in fact, a lot of the time, when one character was speaking, the other actor would rather shut down, as if it wasn't their turn to act at the moment. I think this added to the inert and rather bloodless telling of this story. There were some very good performances, however, from Jayne Howdyshell as the Nurse and Chuck Cooper as Juliet's father. The scene when everyone is discovering Juliet's 'death' was quite moving, I wish there had been more of that throughout the evening. I generally enjoy Christian Camargo, and his Mercutio was beautifully spoken, but, well, he was wearing leather. Really? I believe I've mentioned my distate for the continued use of leather as metaphor in Shakespeare...
There were also a lot of gimmicky props and set pieces that didn't seem to really have anything to do with anything. The bell? Still no idea what it was for, and the fact that the actors were so tempted to lean on the bell cord should've been an indication that no one else knew what it was for, either. The sand on the stage was confusing and the random bits of fire were just odd. There was a stack of chairs to the side, which I guess was handy when someone wanted to pull one off the top to sit on it. I don't know, the whole thing was a confusing mishmash.
Of course, no one was helped by the text, the script was cut to pieces - really, Mercutio's death scene is truncated and he's carried off stage while still speaking?! Paris isn't in the final scene in the crypt?! - and there seemed to be a little rewriting, which really rather ticked me off. There were a couple of lines that struck my ear and I thought, wow, I've never noticed that before. Then I checked my copy of the play when I got home. Well, no wonder I never noticed it before. It was made up. Not good. The second act was so edited, there was really no way the end of the play could register, it came upon us too fast.
My seat neighbors mainly consisted of women who wanted to swoon at Orlando Bloom. So, when the obligatory shirtless scene happened, there was much noice in the house. Sigh. I think that if the production had captured our attention and imagination earlier, there would've been much less of that. The audience also laughed at inappropriate spots, like during entrances and exits from the house. There was no policing of photos, so the camera phones were out throughout. So, perhaps I was expecting too much. Maybe this was just supposed to be some sort of event and not a serious retelling of a wonderful love story. If so, drats. I was in the mood for some wonderful Shakespeare. I will temper my expectations in the future...