BY NAVEEN KUMAR
Stylish pyrotechnics, cinematic scoring, and heavy make-out sessions don’t much compensate for the lack of passion (and often, sense) in director David Leveaux’s uneven production of Romeo and Juliet, which opened on Broadway last week at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Starring film heartthrob Orlando Bloom as a not-so-young Romeo and two-time Tony nominee Condola Rashad as Juliet, Leveaux’s production separates the Montague and Capulet families along racial lines. But, aside from familial differences already evident in Shakespeare’s text—the young (in this case, black) Capulet men have hotter tempers, while their (white) Montague rivals are more into homosocial antics—the production has nothing particularly interesting to say about race or racial politics.
The show’s biggest marquis draw also happens to be its greatest weakness. From the moment he rides on stage on a motorcycle and removes his helmet to star applause (as clumsy an entrance as it is derivative of Baz Luhrman’s ubiquitous 90s film), Bloom struggles with Shakespeare’s language such that it often falls flat. Though he brings with him a certain star quality (without making sense of the play’s poetry), building a character and forming chemistry with others proves difficult.
Ms. Rashad’s wide-eyed Juliet has an emotional transparency that is by contrast refreshing and endearing, particularly in a wonderfully played balcony scene. It’s a quality that sometimes works against her when the action turns to matters of life or death, though the production rarely succeeds in raising the stakes quite that high.
As for that heavy make out session—it dominates the lovers’ first meeting, eating up more stage time than their rushed poetic exchange and setting the tone for a relationship that feels more like an ill-advised one-night stand than a tale of star-crossed love. Stage combat that seems more like dance than the result of blind rage likewise keeps the emotional stakes simmering on low.
With the surprising exception of Brent Carver, whose innocuous Friar Laurence makes it tempting to let fate off the hook and pin the blame on him, the rest of the company is mostly quite strong. Highlights include Roslyn Ruff’s visceral performance as an equally icy and emotional Lady Capulet, and Jayne Houdyshell’s delightful and down-to-earth turn as Juliet’s Nurse. Christian Camargo’s Mick Jagger Mercutio fits well with the production’s vaguely rock-n-roll aesthetic, though at times he seems to be rushing through some of his best material.
Perhaps because the rival families are distinguished by their skin color, costumes in drab, muted colors by Fabio Toblini are worn by all, in various 90s silhouettes. A larger than life pre-Renaissance Italian style fresco occupies the wall of Jesse Poleshuck’s otherwise simple set, which is at times unfortunately the most compelling thing to look at on stage.
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