‘Romeo and Juliet’ comes to Cleveland
OOPlastic swords and light sabers are a staple for no-budget classroom performances of William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Romeo and Juliet.” My second- -period English class was more or less the same; foam scabbards met plastic butcher knifes straight from the Halloween store, and I loved every minute of it. I appreciated the awkward fake kisses and the comedic gusto of death scenes, but I longed to see passionate professionals play Romeo and Juliet. I wanted to get lost in the story as it was originally intended on stage. Luckily, my wish was granted in
April, as “Romeo and Juliet” came to the Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre in Cleveland from April 25-28.
In an unexpected twist, this version of the set was reminiscent of 1940s Berlin. Although all the language was the same, the costumes and set were far from Shakespearean: guns were used in addition to swords, and a scaffolding running the length of the stage was used for the famous balcony scene. There weren’t any scenery changes; the scaffolding remained throughout the play. This structure was awkward, and I would’ve preferred some set changes to add more life to the play.
Seeing “Romeo and Juliet” on a 1940s stage was definitely different, but the performance as a whole contrasted completely with watching the movies or reading the play. There is no rewinding or rereading, nor are there any translations. One must follow the play very closely to enjoy it. However, the actors made up for the confusion with their boundless enthusiasm. When the meaning was unclear, the actors would give me a nudge in the right direction with tone of voice and body movement. Many sexual innuendoes unnoticed in written form were blatant on stage, especially in the nurse’s case.
While every actor delivered a dynamic performance, J. Todd Adams’s portrayal of Mercutio was the most impressive. During his battle against Tybalt (Dan Lawrence) in Act III, Mercutio used the scaffolding almost as a jungle gym. His exciting acrobatics paired with insatiable wit pegged Shakespeare’s Mercutio exactly. I enjoyed every scene he was in, as he commanded almost all my attention, and he was a joy on stage right up to his death.
Mercutio later returns as a man in a trench coat and sunglasses who was apparently supposed to be the Apothecary. Christian Durso (Romeo) explained after the play that it was meant as a dream sequence to shorten the Apothecary’s scene to save time. This was the only clear plot discrepancy I could spot, and other than that the script remained mostly true to Shakespeare’s original.
If you missed “Romeo and Juliet,” more of Shakespeare’s works are being brought to life in next season’s “The Winter’s Tale” from Sept. 28-Nov. 4, 2012 and “Much Ado About Nothing” from March 29-April 14, 2013, both at the Hanna Theatre.