Three Strikes And He's Out
Two years ago, Sir Peter Hall brought lackluster productions of Measure for Measure and A Midsummer Night's Dream to the Ahmanson. In his third attempt, Hall takes on an easy one, Romeo & Juliet, with similarly disappointing results. Despite a largely technically-competent cast, the production's missed opportunities and inexplicable artistic choices result in a wholly passionless evening.
DB Woodside's Romeo begins the play pining over his love, Rosaline. When he meets and falls in love with Juliet, we see no difference in him. Romeo's professions of love for Juliet, his supposed true soul mate, are the same as the words of infatuation he earlier expressed for Rosaline. There is no depth of feeling to his words; Juliet just seems the next in a long line of objects of Romeo's passing desire.
Returning his affections is Lynn Collins as Juliet, whose performance suffers from a similar flaw. Collins plays Juliet very young; it is easy to believe she is in her early teens. But her youthful giddiness is ever-present; we never see her mature into a young woman, even when she shares Romeo's love and his bed. When she talks about her love for Romeo, she sounds no different from a modern teenager infatuated with one of Backstreet Boys.
Portraying Romeo and Juliet as two immature teenagers, rather than young people discovering true love, appears to be an artistic choice, rather than any lack of ability on the part of the cast. But if it is a choice, it is a poor one. With no actual love between them, there is no tragedy at the center of the play. Romeo and Juliet aren't star-crossed lovers trapped between their inescapable attraction and the feud of their families; they're just a couple of stupid kids. And when they are, the audience has very little sympathy for them.
Missed opportunities abound. Romeo is Black and Juliet is White, but this is apparently "color-blind" casting rather than an attempt to say anything about the pressures society puts on interracial relationships. Early in the show, it is clear that, whatever the basis for the quarrel between the Montagues and Capulets, it has nothing to do with race. It needn't, of course, but it could have, and it would've added a sorely-needed layer of meaning to the production if it did.
The problems aren't limited to the title characters. The men, particularly Jesse Borrego's Mercutio, emphasize every double entendre with a pelvic thrust or crotch grab. Is it because the director distrusts his cast's ability to convey the meaning of these jokes with only their voices and realistic gestures? Or was a decision made that the audience was too dim to comprehend Shakespeare's meaning without visual aids? Either way, the audience deserves more.
In the second act, Dakin Matthews, as Capulet, gets exit applause for the scene in which he explodes at Juliet for daring to question his fatherly command. The applause proves that the Ahmanson audience is capable of knowing good Shakespeare when we see it. But the fact that Matthews gets applause is a distressing commentary on the entire production. Matthews is simply doing what everyone should have been doing: connecting with the text and finding the honest emotion inside it.
Romeo & Juliet runs through March 18, 2001 at the Ahmanson Theatre. Reviewed February 8, 2001.
Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, Gordon Davidson, Artistic Director/Producer presents Romeo & Juliet, by William Shakespeare. Set & costume design by John Gunter; lighting design by Robert Wierzel; sound design by Rob Milburn; wigs & hair by Carol F. Dornan; music composed by Karl Fredrik Lundeberg; fight direction by John Stead; dances staged by Joann F. Jansen; voice & text coach Eva Barnes; Los Angeles casting by Joy Dickson & Nicole Arbusto and Amy Lieberman; New York casting by Deborah Brown, C.S.A.; production stage manager Mary Michele Miner; associate director Daniel Fish; associate producer Madeline Puzo; directed by Peter Hall.
Chorus - Dakin Matthews