New York City Theater
"Romeo and Juliet"
Jean Cocteau Repertory, Manhattan
A current trend of off-Broadway theater has been to deconstruct Shakespeare, offering innovative, pared-down versions of the plays. Consider the Chicago Shakespeare Company's recent offering of "Rose Rage." That version of "Henry VI" (all three parts) takes place in a Chicago slaughterhouse, where cabbages, not heads are decapitated, and chunks of liver are split asunder.
In a similar vein, "Romeo and Juliet" undergoes a dizzy overhauling at the Jean Cocteau Repertory. Shakespeare's teen-age melodrama hurtles forward in a non-stop 90-minute telling of the tale. Eight actors play all roles, changing gender, age, status in a flash.
The gist of the story comes through, with familiar dialogue and familiar scenes. But much has disappeared. Where, for instance, is the famous balcony scene?
Does this approach work? Yes, and no.
Initially, all is confusion, as the actors play out the scenes of violence on the Verona streets. Hard to say who is who, as a player quickly turns into some one else.
Director Rom McLucas' props are also multi-purpose. He has ingeniously used chains and leather strips (courtesy of costume/set designer Michael McKowen) which serve as ornamental belts or weapons of mass destruction. Ultimately, one tires of the repetitive pulling and pushing about, as the actors constantly circle each other.
But one half hour into the show, the story emerges in all its tragic force. And the actors, in clearly-defined roles, come into their own. Kristina Klebe is a radiant Juliet, all youthful impatience and rash passion. And Anna Zostrow gives a delicious portrayal of the dotty Nurse. Their mutual scenes are the production's highlights. Yet when Zostrow becomes Lord Capulet, she makes the leap easily.
In all, a vibrant young cast in cleverly devised costumes captures the wild spirit of this early Shakespearean tragedy.
-- Irene Backalenick
Oct. 17, 2004