Romeo and Juliet at the Shakespeare Theatre

Because I am nothing if not predictable, let me begin this review in exactly the manner in which my blogging compatriot predicted last night:


BOYS IN SKIRTS!!!1!!!!1!!!!!eleventy!!!!

If the point hasn't been made, David Muse's production of Romeo and Juliet that opened this past week at the Shakespeare Theatre incorporated several aspects of what has been termed "original practices", the most notable of which is an all-male cast (aka, BOYS IN SKIRTS). As you might have guessed, all-male Shakespeare might well be termed one of my Very Favorite Things Ever, so I went into the Sidney Harman Hall last night with high hopes and eager expectations.

Before the play even begins, however, something beyond the siren call of Boys in Skirts demands attention as soon as you enter the Hall: pony up, boys, we got ourselves a thrust stage! I can't even BEGIN to describe what the chance of seeing Shakespeare done on a thrust stage does to me, but trust me, THRUST = AWESOME. Or, it normally does. While I applaud Muse for recognizing the theatrical power that can be harnessed with this configuration, I have to say (in somewhat aggrieved tones) that he never uses it properly in this production. The joy of the thrust is that it pushes the actor out of the proscenium comfort zone and surrounds them on three sides with an audience whose gaze cannot be ignored. An audience with whom Shakespeare's characters are ITCHING to speak. Asides and monologues and tiny moments in between lines are bursting to be shared, not directed inward as though they were a Hollywood voiceover. To the best of my awareness last night, not once did an actor utilize this amazing gift that a thrust offers, and that's a great pity.

Perhaps I should note that thrust stages might be my second Very Favorite Thing Ever, so I might be a wee bit biased.


Squandered thrust aside, there was a lot to get excited about last night. From the moment the full cast took the stage to speak the prologue, there was a thoroughly masculine energy that surged outwards and demanded my attention. Boys and men and dirty jokes and roughhousing and leather trousers ABOUNDED, and it was often exhilarating to behold.

For that oh-so-famous prologue, the entire company took the stage, and the actors playing women appeared in nine-tenths of their costume; the only element missing were their wigs, so that their maleness was evident, unapologetic, and entirely beside the point.

Which actually sums up the way in which this all-male production handled the Boys in Skirts. Directors have been known to fret that audiences won't buy into a male actor playing a female role, but in every production I've ever seen of Hot Man on Man Shakespeare, that's never been an issue. There are productions where the gender of the actors shifts the energy of the entire play and deeply alters what the audience takes away from a text (Propeller's Taming of the Shrew, anyone?), there are some where the gender-bending just adds to the wackiness of the world Shakespeare created (the Globe Theatre's gem of a Twelfth Night comes to mind), but then there are others where it's mostly just a blip under the radar after the initial BOYS IN SKIRTS! moment. James Davis gives us a credible Juliet, but his gender never seemed to matter overmuch to this production- the same largely goes for the other actors playing women. They play the characters, full stop, and Get On with the Play.

But this isn't to say that the gender of the cast is irrelevant to the entire production, because that initial surge of testosterone returns every time the four female characters are offstage (ie, the majority of the time). That energy is potent, and by leaving in the bawdy humor that sometimes gets shuffled offstage, it paints a vivid picture of the society into which Shakespeare places his characters. Leader of the boys' club is undoubtedly Aubrey Deeker's Mercutio, here touched by some Renaissance rock god, in his purple leather trousers, bleached blond hair, and electric antics. It's slightly... odd, as though Deeker might have wandered in from a different production as a last minute substitute, but by Bob, is he COOL (which is what we want from a Mercutio, after all). With a manic disposition and a fierce drive lurking underneath the surface, Deeker gives a captivating performance that, for all the oddity in his costume, somehow fits right into this production.

Mention must also be made of Finn Wittrock, whose name I suddenly ADORE, because, dude. FINN WITTROCK. ROCK ON. *ahem* Fabulous name aside, Wittrock manages to give me a Romeo that I, well, GET. I see the flashes of why his friends want to hang around him even when he's a mopey mess, I see what Juliet might see in him, and I ALSO see the boldest choice for the death of Tybalt I've ever encountered, HOO BOY. He's a Romeo that will stick around in the memory of the audience, which is a great compliment for a character many of us tire of and become frustrated with all too often. One of the best aspects of the production are his scenes with Ted van Griethuysen's Friar Laurence, who gives the best Friar I've ever seen (unsurprising, considering that TvG was also the best Gravedigger I've ever seen, and the best [basically, fill in your favorite TvG role here]). With an exasperated ruffle of Romeo's hair, we (allow me to be a sci-fi geek here for a second) grok this relationship utterly and finally see how these strange and terrible events ever managed to unfold.

So yes, it's true- there's some squandered potential here (THRUST STAGE, I AM LOOKING AT YOU). There are some unusual choices made that I don't want to spoil here, some of which I'm not entirely sure I can get behind, but would be worth noting here if I weren't so dedicated to the cause of the spoilerphobe. But there ARE some excellent performances. There was some clever design work at work in the scene changes, and the more I thought about the placement of the audience in the final scene, the more I dug it. The production does a fantastic job at capturing a raucous energy that surges back and forth over the length of an evening.

And you gotta dig those boys in skirts.

Conclusion? It ain't perfect, but everyone should see an all-male Shakespeare at least once in their lives, and until Propeller does a residency in DC (ED HALL, I WILL BAKE YOU COOKIES EVERY DAY FOR A YEAR IF YOU WILL DO THIS), this is what we've got. Therefore, GO.


Okay, we clearly need another DC reviewer with differing opinions than us, because otherwise this blog is going to become boring. I've written my review and it is exactly the same as yours, only with less capslock. We are so predictable. I'll put mine up at the end of the week along with my musings on Taffety Punk's production.

If you bring the cookies, I'll bring the brownies. Ed Hall, are you listening????
Rudesby said…
Well, that or we should at least stop ALL discussion when we see plays together. That might help a tad...

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