King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe puts on their rendition of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Elizabeth Power (CC’13), in the Glicker-Milstein Black Box on Lower Level 2 of the Diana Center yesterday, today, and tomorrow at 8 pm. Visiting critic Mollie Krent reviews.
Romeo and Juliet. I shan’t commence this review with a dull re-telling of the plot. If by some chance you don’t know what Romeo and Juliet is about, how about watching the Zeffirelli version, or enjoy Claire Danes’ chin-acting in Romeo + Juliet, or West Side Story, or Gnomeo and Juliet, or watch this, or, this, or, hey, go see the show! These examples listed are just some of the evidence pointing to what you all know: this play’s got mad hype. Since its creation, which as I’m sure many of you know did not begin with Shakespeare, through today, the story’s cultural relevance persists.
Because of our familiarity with the show as the epic tale of passionate love that withstands all obstacles, we have expectations. Big ones. Massive ones. Epic ones. Even with these expectations and our recurring interaction with the tale, this rendition still found ways to make it new, exciting, and fresh in the setting of a private school. We not only have expectations because of the story but because it’s Billy Shakespeare. SHAKESPEARE! We expect poetry and grandeur, and it would be a fatal flaw if that’s not what the show gave us. The actors driving the show took the text and used it to motivate their actions, rather than getting lost or tied up in its beauty.
The contrast between the younger generation and the older ways of society is important to Shakespeare’s argument, and it’s this tension that KCST’s rendition encapsulates best. The show did find the giddiness and excitement of fresh love and the moments of relief and despair, but what I could not find was the passion. Where was the fire of the hot, claustrophobic Italian city that is not only a hotbed of emotion but is so unstable as a result of the destruction the Montagues and the Capulets have wrought? Except for lines in which one of the families directly called out the other, the feud was entirely lost—thus there was no urgency.
Tybalt’s (Rebecca Clark CC’13) fury, though fierce and committed, seemed out of place, and the lovers’ fear and desperation was unfounded because the tumultuous and dangerous atmosphere was never represented. When the two families looked upon the death of Tybalt and heard the Prince’s (Percy Stubbs, CC’15) punishment, they received it as if they were freshman roommates who had fallen out of touch—not as though they were mortal enemies. Overall, the play felt too easy. Scenes took their time, transitions surely took their time, but this story takes place in three days—we don’t have time! People are dying left and right!
Also, there was a lack of passion in the lovers’ relationship. As I mentioned before, this play did a great job in establishing the freshness and excitement of young love. It made their love approachable and believable. But to some extent, the love should be unbelievable. Epic. It needs to be so intense that it would lead two 14 year-olds to jump into marriage, throwing away all they know and, ultimately, throwing away themselves. The chemistry between Romeo (David Gassett GS ’15) and Juliet (Ione Wang CC’15) was spot on and magnetic. My favorite scene between the two of them was not their bubbly balcony scene, but instead their parting scene (the nightingale/lark scene). They encapsulated the push-pull wonderfully, but at the same time their passion for one another stayed on the level of Danny and Sandra Dee saying goodbye at the end of summer vacation, when it needed to be filled with uncertainty, pain, self-sacrifice, and maturity.
Besides that, these two actors were absolutely fantastic. Gassett took the words and made them his own. He was a master of his language and it was entrancing to watch his journey unfold—a playful boy who could truly make your heart break with a single, lost look. Wang, too, was so powerful because of how she attacked the language and the way in which she was able to externalize her very internal conflicts. She shone in each soliloquy—my favorite was the one in which she debated taking the drug that would give her the appearance of death. Her range of emotion, the quick shifts from terror to confidence and back again were so vivid and were evidence of the transcendence this actress achieved.
Exciting performances by individual actors served up the momentum of this piece that the rest of the play lacked. Capulet (Gerard Ramm CC’13) took the mold of the stern older generation, and gave us a man. The scene where Ramm shone the most was when Capulet insists that Juliet marry Paris. Up until that point, Capulet had had a few lines now and then, but in this scene Ramm took us on a journey, showing a man grasping at straws trying to maintain order and stability in the face of being questioned.
The most stimulating scenes were those with Romeo, Benvolio (David Silberthau CC’15) and Mercutio (Alex Dabertin CC’15). Each time the three were on stage together, the audience was treated to a burst of energy and creativity. We saw three boys taking hold of their lives and expressing themselves in the only ways they knew how—lewd hand gestures and fantastic dancing. In all seriousness, Silberthau handled seeing his best friend killed with startling grace; his frightened and exasperated attempts to put all the information together showed his command of the text and his spot-on embodiment of this youth. Dabertin, similarly, handled the famous infinite Queen Mab speech with a raw honesty. The spiral from mania to hysteria was seamless and frightening because of how Dabertin enveloped himself in this story—he allowed himself to lose control which enabled his psychological burden to pour out.
My favorite performance of the night goes to dear Friar Lawrence (Matt Martinez CC’13). A role I often ignore was given a fresh, quirky spin. Martinez had such a specific and subtle character in mind, and each choice was beautifully informed by the nerdy, orderly, and avid Friar. Martinez spun a three dimensional arc for us, one that made us laugh, say ‘aww,’ and question the motives at play from the way he squirmed under Paris’ (Keanu Ross-Cabreara CC’16) presence and the way he stealthily slipped the empty vial of the death-inducing drug into his pocket. Bravo!
While I have my qualms about this play, from the logistical problems to the thematic, it was still an absolutely enjoyable experience, and these performances were just some of the ones that made the play really come alive.
Still life with religious figure via Wikimedia Commons.