Romeo and Juliet
Also see Susan's review of Dr. Cook's Garden
The Shakespeare Theater Company's production of Romeo and Juliet lavishly fills the broad spaces of Washington's Sidney Harman Hall, but remains emotionally remote. Director David Muse has taken a formal approach to the material, including having the entire cast present several of the speeches of exposition directly to the audience in the manner of a Greek chorus.
Muse returns to the custom of William Shakespeare's own time by casting the female roles with men; he plays up the artifice by bringing out the actors in costume, but without wigs or headdresses, for the opening speech. The leading performances are good enough that one never thinks about the sex of the performers after becoming used to James Davis having a throatier, darker vocal quality than the usual Juliet.
Davis conveys both the youth and the passion of Juliet without ever slipping into caricature, and he is a good match with Finn Wittrock's callow, openly emotional Romeo. Other standouts are Aubrey Deeker as a bravura Mercutio; Drew Eshelman, finding every drop of bawdy humor in the role of Juliet's Nurse; Ted van Griethuysen as a more self-satisfied Friar Lawrence than in many productions (he seems to believe that, by marrying Juliet to Romeo, he will end the Capulet-Montague feud singlehandedly); and Hubert Point-Du Jour as an eminently sensible Benvolio.
The fight direction by Robin McFarquhar deserves special mention for its ingenuity and intensity, but despite the very physical productionthe young men wrestle among themselves and jump up and down when they aren't fightingand the constant motion of the large cast, the play remains intellectually stimulating rather than moving. Muse is juggling several different dramatic components here, with three onstage musicians providing live accompaniment composed by The Broken Chord Collective.
The physical production shows the company's usual polish. Scott Bradley's scenic design places a balcony on top of a series of low arches, and the floor draws the eye with its elaborate sunburst mosaic. Lap Chi Chu has created an atmospheric lighting design, using hanging bulbs to simulate both decorative lights and stars, and Jennifer Moeller's costumes shimmer with rich colors and sumptuous textures.
Shakespeare Theatre Company