L&S America Online   Subscribe
Home Lighting Sound AmericaIndustry NewsLSA DirectoryEventsContacts

-Today's News

-Last 7 Days

-Business News + Industry Support

-People News

-Product News

-Theatre in Review

-Subscribe to News

-Subscribe to LSA Mag

-News Archive

-Media Kit

-A Theatre Project Book

Theatre in Review: Romeo and Juliet (NAATCO)

Brian Lee Huynh, Daniel Liu. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

This new take on Romeo and Juliet immediately draws a line between Elizabethan and contemporary language, but it is a muddled and constantly shifting one. The Chorus enters and offers Shakespeare's opening speech about "star-cross'd lovers" while, simultaneously, a couple of unruly Veronese youths, Gregory and Sampson, engage in hostile/homoerotic verbal horseplay based around the word "suck." Sampson, itching for some action, promises to pillage the Capulets, taking "the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads, feel me?" (Before the comma, the line comes from the original text; the rest is an add-on.) "I don't know that anyone has ever felt you," replies Gregory. Sampson snaps back, "Any feeler I've felt up will willingly testify; It's known I am a pretty piece of flesh." (Again, the words after the semicolon are Shakespeare; the rest is interpolated.)

The text, a "modern verse translation" by Hansol Jung, was commissioned by Play On Shakespeare, an organization devoted to making the Bard's texts more accessible to those who might be put off by obscure references or difficult constructions. The results are rather like plastic surgery; perceived flaws are smoothed over by stitching twenty-first century tropes into Elizabethan dialogue without disturbing rhyme or meter. (They had better not touch the insults; if they cut "cream-faced loon" from Macbeth, I'm coming for them.)

Thus, Mercutio, greeting Romeo, says, "I hope you ghosted us to score fair last night." In response to Lord Capulet's request for "twenty cunning cooks" to prepare the meals for Juliet's marriage to Paris, Jung twists the servant's response ("You shall have none ill, sir; for I'll try if they can lick their fingers") to "You shall have the best, sir, 'cause I'll put them all to the finger-licking test." He adds, "A cook that won't lick his own fingers don't like his own taste. So no licking, no hiring." (The original is "'Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers: therefore, he that cannot lick his fingers goes not with me." Not such a shout-out to Colonel Sanders, alas.) And where Shakespeare has Peter, the servant to Juliet's nurse, asks a troupe of musicians to play "'Heart's Ease,' because my heart itself plays 'My heart is full of woe'," Jung has him request "'Purple Rain,' because my heart is beaten black and blue."

So much fussing to so little effect; the play rattles along as it usually does, with a bit of modern embroidery occasionally popping out and causing a brief disorientation. To my mind, the last thing any Shakespeare play needs is more strenuously bawdy puns, but Jung forges ahead on this front, having Mercutio, Romeo, and the Nurse indulging in various lewd allusions to "cockerel." (For some reasons, the young men are busy executing splits during this exchange.) But I guess if Shakespeare survived Colley Cibber and Rockabye Hamlet, this, too, shall pass. Still, there's something pointless about the effort; I much prefer wholesale reimaginations like Seize the King, Will Power's muscular retelling of Richard III, to the sort of filigree practiced here.

More perplexing is the staging by Jung and Dustin Wills, a wayward collection of devices that never coalesces into a coherent point of view. Scene after scene proliferates with self-indulgent whimsies, beginning with some farcical street fighting that removes any sense of incipient danger in the divided Verona. An actor enters, a cardboard sign draped around his neck with "Montague" on one side and "Capulet" on the other, allowing him to represent two warring families at once. Daniel Liu, who plays the Chorus and the servant Peter, also steps into the role of Lady Capulet, when not carrying a hat rack bearing a sign saying that it is playing Lady Capulet. A brace of cooks runs around in chef toques and Groucho glasses, leaving one to wonder what the Marx Brother version of Romeo and Juliet might be like. Juliet, dressed for a masked ball, sports a birdcage on her head, making kissing her a challenge. Often, the young men in Verona seem more interested in each other than any young lady, what with all the crotch-grabbing and Mercutio lying down and masturbating and faking orgasm.

Only a few seasons ago, NAATCO did a thoroughly creditable job with Shakespeare's famously difficult Henry VI trilogy; surely the company's flat, uninflected approach here is a result of inattentive direction. The Romeo and Juliet of Major Curda and Dorcas Leung evince little romantic spark nor sexual heat, even when she jumps on top of him, assaulting him with a kiss. Neither actor exhibits the sheer impulsiveness, the erotic desperation that drives their characters to defy their powerful families. Liu, the evening's appointed comedian, screams his lines, stages crying jags as Lady Capulet, and struggles clumsily with various props and bits of scenery, none of which is amusing. Even Mia Katigbak fails to connect with the Nurse's earthy humor. At least Rob Kellogg makes an attractive and dignified Paris and Purva Bedi gives Friar Laurence a lucidity that is otherwise missing.

Junghyun Georgia Lee's set design places the action on a raised circular stage bisected by a white muslin curtain with gold fringe, which is often used for distracting stage business. The audience is seated on two sides; if you go, opt for the north section, which the actors tend to favor. Joey Moro's lighting makes evocative use of color washes, mirror ball effects, and stark sidelight looks. Mariko Ohigashi's costumes mix doublets with tuxedo vests, animal slippers, bow ties, and Teddy bear sweaters, a mash-up that is hard to parse. Megumi Katayama's sound design solidly delivers Brian Quijada's original music as well as selections from classic operas.

It's one thing to attend a Shakespeare revival and possibly disagree with the director's point of view; it's something else to step onboard a rudderless ship like this. This production is, by any yardstick, a mistake. Jung's translation is rather timid, a bit of textual fiddling that distracts rather than illuminates. Then again, it is hard to judge because the actors' collective delivery is so lackluster. NAATCO is a fine company, but, this time around, Romeo and Juliet are ill-met by moonlight. --David Barbour

(15 May 2023)

E-mail this story to a friendE-mail this story to a friend

LSA Goes Digital - Check It Out!

  Follow us on Twitter  Follow us on Facebook