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Romeo And Juliet – Review

R&J

Within the first five minutes of Romeo and Juliet the audience is treated to; a pyrotechnics show, a flying live bird, amplified kettledrums and a movie star arriving on a motorcycle. It isn’t until the arrival of the Capulets, all played to beautiful perfection, that we realize that this is a show that has something for everyone.

Under David Leveaux’s direction this Romeo and Juliet is in essence two plays. The Montagues all appear to be Caucasian and far paler in most respects to the Capulets. The Montagues all seem to be British while the Capulets are American. This blatant use of differing accents might be apt if the setting was the Revolutionary War. But the setting is undefined. There is a bit of sand and an enormous faded fresco wall with graffiti that intentionally or not evokes the opening credits of West Side Story. The costumes are mostly subdued hued flowing Eileen Fisher type garments, and some people don’t wear shoes. In short, we’re not sure exactly where and when this is taking place, but we do know that shiny modern (and loud) motorcycles have been invented already.

The duality at play goes far beyond skin tone and accents however. The actors surrounding Romeo (Orlando Bloom) seem subdued. The fight scenes are hesitant and involve little touching (as if the actors were marking the scene.) Mr. Bloom is the most physically timid and we can almost hear him count out his moves. It doesn’t make for very interesting fight scenes, and it is a bit difficult to discern who is supposed to be injured. The physical hesitation becomes even more jarring when Romeo is paired with the fluid Juliet (Condola Rashad). Her lithe youthful movements in contrast to the (significantly older) Bloom’s rigid timidity make the age difference all the more glaring. Their scenes together often shift into consecutive monologues as it’s impossible to see what’s between them. We are certain that Juliet is smitten, but are never quite sure what Romeo feels. Several times, when Mr. Bloom could be heard and understood, I found myself wondering; is he sad is he happy? The restraint of all of the Montague players is in such contrast to the bold performances of the Capulet clan. When Juliet, the nurse (Jane Houdyshell) and either parent; (Chuck Cooper) and (Roslyn Ruff) are on stage, we’re watching a different play entirely. The theatre comes alive with their modern and passionate interpretation. They are subtle and fierce and funny and wonderful.

The fresco wall moves in several ways throughout the play and makes for a simple unobtrusive backdrop. It’s a reprieve from the frequently used blasts of fire. There is a large bell hanging from the fly throughout most of the play. It’s purpose and/or symbolism is not entirely clear. The music (when not being used to demand the audience’s attention) is a lovely addition. The cellist (Tahirah Whittington) took to the stage to play during the party scene and helped to create the most dramatic and delicious moments of the production. Luckily there are enough of these exquisite scenes to satisfy those who enjoy such things. There is also plenty to make special effects fans happy. And the people who come to see a movie star stand on a stage and speak will be satisfied as well. It is an interesting balance Mr. Leveaux has achieved.

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Posted by on September 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Ruined – Review

This weekend I went, somewhat begrudgingly, to see Ruined at The Manhattan Theatre Club.  I knew nothing about the play except that it had just won the Pulitzer Prize for Lynn Nottage.  That was enough to get me in the door.  Once in the theatre (at City Center) I saw the gigantic wall poster of the play’s synopsis.  Out of the corner of my eye I spotted those key cringe inducing Eve Ensler nouns and shuddered.  I felt lightheaded at the very thought of two and a half hours of “women as victims” narrative.  Well, in for a penny in for a pound as they say.  I had my ticket and a pocketful of gourmet jelly beans, so into the theatre with me.  My equilibrium began to return the moment I stepped inside.  The stage is enormous and the house is small; and excellent combination.  The stage was set dramatically and expansively, every inch was performance space.  I took my comfortable sixth row seat and spun my head like an owl.  The house was filled with actual theatergoers.  The interracial crowd was tourist-free; another good sign, nary an M&Ms shopping bag in sight.  Sitting in the row directly in front of me was Philip Seymour Hoffman (or Phil as his friends call him) and Laila Robbins (not together;) another very good sign.  A few rows ahead of me, Lynn Whitfield sat down.  Things were looking up.  The last time I had been at a performance with such a healthy percentage of actor to commoner ration was August Osage County.
Never underestimate the veracity of good omens.  This play is enormous.  Yes, it is a play set in a war torn far off locale, and yes there are unspeakable horrors brought upon women, men and children.  But there is nothing treacly or sentimental or preachy about Ruined.  It is a beautiful story about the human spirit, that brought me to tears (twice) not out of pity for the characters, but out of admiration for their strength.  There are wonderful moments of laughter, and there is music, gorgeous, poetic music.  The play is set in a taverna/brothel, and the music is live and an integral part of the play.  Kate Whoriskey directs this play at a perfect pace.  There is never one moment of downtime or distraction, I was riveted to every moment and motion on stage  The play is mostly led by female characters who were beautifully developed.  The male lead; Russel G. Jones, broke my heart.  He is Herbie to Saidah Arrika Ekulona’s aptly named Mama.  It does not belittle Ruined to draw this Gypsy comparison.  Both Mama’s live off the “talents” of their girls and both
have a traveling salesman wooing them.  Mr Jones’ Christian, like Herbie, is driven by decency, and in Ruined this male character trait is most spectacular.   Ms. Ekulona is a dynamic actress and finds every nuance of Mama, I could not get enough of her.  Condola Rashad (yes, Mrs. Huxtable’s daughter) was a delightful surprise.  She does a very fine job in the difficult and demanding role of Sophie.  It is when she sings that she really comes to life.  A capable singer, she is heartbreaking singing the songs of Lynn Nottage.  Enough can not said about the play itself.  My only concern about it is that now that it has won the Pulitzer, community theatres across America will tackle it.  Human Rights organization will build fundraisers around it.  But without the gorgeous direction of Ms. Whoriskey, the play could be cheapened. Produced on the expansive stage of the MTC and staged in such a realistic manner, there is a degree of intimacy that is a key component to the experience.  This play should not be “watched” it should be experienced.  In the wrong hands it quite possibly could deteriorate into a Congo Monologue.  Please see it now while it is as it should be.  The play and the performances will stay with you and you’ll feel better for having seen it.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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