Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see David's review of All Shook Up
Director Barry Edelstein has heeded this dictum in his current production, which runs outdoors through September 15. He's trimmed the text so it reflects the urgency demonstrated by the youthful characters, he's added pop culture references to other versions of Romeo and Juliet, which function to add to the enjoyment for those familiar with the plot, and he highlights one of the characters normally put in the background.
And, he stages the play in a sandboxand makes it work.
Let's start with the sandbox. Scenic designer Takeshi Kata places it a bit off-center, which allows it to balance, visually, the other major stage element: a long, angular, bird's eye view of the rooftops of Verona, whose lowest point is where the sandbox begins and whose highest point is at the opposite side of the stage. Oh yes, a balcony does make an appearance, but only briefly. The sand suggests summer, playfulness, and a bit of a rustic feel. It made me recall visiting the Verona Arena, a Roman structure with fine acoustics where grand opera is staged in the summer.
As in grand opera, emotions run high in Mr. Edelstein's production. Romeo (Aaron Clifton Moten) likes to act laid back and funny, but he's easily provoked and can run hot when that happens. Juliet (Louisa Jacobson) runs much cooler, though she can break down when she thinks it is safe to do so: with her mother (Sofia Jean Gomez) and her nurse (Candy Buckley). The production also creates another "safe" character in Friar Laurence, and Jesse J. Perez, the director of the Globe's graduate program in acting, makes the Friar a charismatic figure whose well-intended plan to rescue the lovelorn couple from their warring families goes sadly awry.
As for the pop culture additions, the program helps identify the many references, everything from the Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann films to Taylor Swift, "I Love Lucy," and, of course, West Side Story. Musical references turn up in Justin Gray's live piano accompaniment, a nice touch. A lot of the references become the province of Ben Chase as Mercutio in full hipster drag (Judith Dolan did the summery costume design). There's dancing, too; there's no choreographer credit, but Blythe Barton gets a nod as movement consultant.
Not every idea works. For example, putting Romeo and Juliet on stage as children (Jaydn Washington and Veda Cienfuegos) playing in the sandbox with each other takes a swipe at the old saw, "You've got to be taught to hate" and misses. In fact, the effect of the script reductions makes the war between the Capulets and Montagues seem more like a battle between factions in a condominium homeowners association. The fact that the hurts can be mediated by such a reasonable Prince (Carlos Angel-Barajas) dulls their effects.
Even so, the play zips along, with spotlights in Stephen Strawbridge's lighting design and aural emphasis in Sten Severson's sound design keeping the audience focused on the right people and places, and the cast speak the speech with clarity, precision and style.
This is Mr. Edelstein's most audacious production at The Old Globe, and, in this case, audacity pays off.
Romeo and Juliet, through September 15, 2019, at The Old Globe, Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego CA. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday at 8pm; starting September 1, Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday performances begin at 7pm. Tickets are available by calling 619-23-GLOBE (234-5623) or by visiting www.theoldglobe.org.
Cast members also include: Cornell Womack, Summer Broyhill, Ramon Burris, Mason Conrad, Yadira Correa, Aubrey Deeker Hernandez, Eric Hagen, Bibi Mama, Hallie Peterson, Jersten Seraile, Morgan Taylor, Wenona Truong, Jared Van Heel, and Marco Antonio Vega.