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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the September 19,
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Romeo and Juliet’
The lobby at the McCarter Theater was well lit on
night, but it was illumination from the display of commemorative
candles that the arriving audience was immediately drawn. There was
no need to comment, only to look, feel, and know.
A recent trip to Europe and reading about the breakdown of talks in
the Middle East prompted McCarter Theater’s artistic director Emily
Mann to choose "Romeo and Juliet" as the season opener and
also as the first of Shakespeare’s plays she has directed. In a
interview with Daniel LaPenta of Drew University, Mann said that it
was a photo of a mother holding her dead child in her arms — a
little boy who must have been about nine years old — that was
a defining moment. He had been throwing stones and had been shot.
The caption under the photo read, "I wish I had 10 more sons to
give to the struggle." Mann thought "My God, there is no
In the wake of the terrorist attack of September 11 and the violence
that has brought devastation to our land and death to so many who
sought only to love and be loved in our midst, Shakespeare’s tragedy
could not be more timely. Mann’s staging has arrived at a time when
nothing less than one of sheer excellence could capture our hearts
and minds. This one does. Mann’s vision and execution of "Romeo
and Juliet" may be the most lucid, exciting, and artful of the
dozen or more that I have seen.
In the guise of Jeffrey Carlson and Sarah Drew, "Romeo and
those two lovesick kids from Verona, are mooning innocently at each
other once again, eternally unaware that their love is destined to
be the victim of their families bitter feuding, a madness than cannot
But what a disarming pair they are — as blind to the hatred
their families as they are wide-eyed by the one and only emotion that
really matters. And what a rewarding evening they are presiding over.
Not the least of the rewards is the stunning physical production.
Impressively framed by set designer Neil Patel’s high, hard alabaster
walls, enhanced by lighting designer Donald Holder’s enveloping
and dressed with Jess Goldstein’s breathtaking autumn-tinged period
costumes, 16th-century Verona has rarely been so stunningly evoked.
Yes, we are relieved that Mann has kept the oft-transported and
star-crossed lovers in the time and place of Shakespeare’s vision,
From the play’s opening moment when a young boy picks
up a stone and hurls it in anger into a band of older youths, Mann’s
staging is not only afire with the volatile passions of youth but
also clangorous in depicting the waves of civil unrest. The brawl
that opens the play and the later ones instigated by the feuding
and Capulet families are as vivid as they are violent. I was pleased
with Mann’s judicious yet meticulous pruning of the script and her
fluid use of overlapping scenes.
But what about those young lovers? In portraying Romeo, your typical
self-impressed 1596 teenager who goes ga-ga at every pretty face in
Verona, the actor needs to make a convincing case for youthful
and angst. As portrayed by Carlson, Romeo does this handsomely and
expediently as we watch him quickly forgetting his latest crush on
the fair Rosaline as soon as he gazes on the likes of Juliet. There
also is much to admire in the way this attractive and ardent young
actor grappled with the role’s histrionics.
Although Drew’s Juliet has a tendency toward a contemporary lilt in
her speech, she also caresses the verse, not as some abstract or
scripture reading, but with the honestly felt emotions and, indeed,
giddiness, of a maturing maiden in the first bloom of love. I
appreciated Drew’s decision not to appear overly demure. Punctuated
by a reckless freshness, the famed balcony scene is an unexpected
joy. Carlson’s robust leaping into the air to touch the tips of
fingers made one swoon in adoration of their ecstasy, passion, and,
yes, hot kisses.
That both Carlson and Drew flaunt the grace and style of purposeful
young Shakespearean actors, as well as the exuberance and wit of their
respective characters, seems even more gratifying in light of their
limited experience. Carlson graduated this spring from Juilliard’s
Drama Division and Drew is currently a fourth year student at the
University of Virginia.
If our attention is generally riveted on the driven Romeo and Juliet,
we can also turn our attention occasionally to the traditionally
Mercutio (Remy Auberjonois) and Romeo’s empathetic cousin and sidekick
Benvolio (Christopher Rivera).
David Cromwell assumes the role of the empathetic herbalist Friar
Laurence with the humorously becalmed air of someone in love with
plotting. I like the blatant nastiness of Joe Wilson’s Tybalt. His
vigorous, ill-fated hand-to-hand combat with Romeo is the most
I’ve seen. As Juliet’s coarse old nanny (a very difficult role) Myra
Lucretia Taylor happily doesn’t fall prey, like many a fine actress
has before her, to the recourse of mugging. Instead, she embellishes
the nurse with a lusty air of tough love with which the audience is
able to identify.
Johnny Giacalone, as County Paris, was perhaps far too likable a
suitor to have us believe that the romantically inclined Juliet would
so easily toss this comely swain aside. Giving two small roles —
Friar John and servant Peter — precious comical insinuation is
playwright, actor, and director David Greenspan.
Mann, guiding a superb cast, has meaningfully focused on the humanity
and conflict between the feuding Montagues and Capulets and the
relationship of the ill-fated lovers. As we are reminded, Romeo and
Juliet’s plight and their fate is encountered today, in the Middle
East and the rest of the world, where similar scenarios are being
played out every day.
— Simon Saltzman
Place, 609-258-2787. $39 and $43. To Sunday, September 30.
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