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A CurtainUp Review
Romeo & Juliet
First, the good news: Julian Cihi and Elizabeth Olsen, as the titular leads, are well-matched as the star-crossed lovers. It's not so much the chemistry they share or their mastery of the Bard's poetry but that they look comfortable in their romantic personas and carry the gravitas of their roles with no self-consciousness.
Cihi, who leaps about the stage with panther-like grace, takes his iconic character literally in stride. Olsen's Juliet strikes you as a young woman who can go the distance, no matter what the personal and emotional cost.
Now the bad news: The acting overall is problematic. Daphne Rubin-Vega's Nurse is amusing but seems like she has wandered in from another Shakespeare play (think Iago's wife Emilia in Othello). Instead of acting like the worldly confidante to Juliet, Rubin-Vega sashays about the stage in a sheer blouse and silk pants and platform-style shoes in which she seems less than comfortable and occasionally lapses into Spanish. Quite a difference from the biking Jayne Houdyshell on Broadway.
Kathryn Meisle's Lady Capulet is more siren than matron here. Most of the time she's on stage, you will see her decked out in animal-print or bright red couture (actually a nice touch of color in the otherwise rather plain and dour looking production). Though she is a veteran thesp, you end up noticing her aggressive clothes more than her well delivered. verses. David Garrison's Capulet looks the old patriarch but lacks the roar.
Daniel Davis, like the other more mature cast members, speaks his lines well and clearly though his Friar Laurence, comes across more as a blue-blood than man of the cloth. As for T. R. Knight, he is so over the top as Mercutio that he seems badly in need of some calming meds from the doc he used to play on TV's Grey's Anatomy.
In spite of its acting flaws, Alagic has come up with some original twists to familiar staging. For example, she couples The Prologue with having the entire cast silently enter the performance area, one by one, and line-up along the back wall. No pyrotechnics. It is as if she is inviting the audience to take, not only a first look at the individual cast members, but their measure as well.
If this is a bold but controversial stroke, the famous balcony scene, will literally floor you. Instead of staging it aloft, she has Juliet seated in a chair along the stage's back wall and Romeo wooing her from center stage. While purists will find this scene a let-down (excuse the pun), others may view it as I did: a very grounded re-imagining for the 21st century that shows Juliet, not as a young goddess, but on equal human footing with Romeo.
Having already seen the more lavish Broadway production, this lively minimalist version with its clean-looking set by Marsha Ginsberg and original music and sound by Ryan Rumery is in stark contrast. What's clear from some of the put-downs reaped by the Broadway production and likely to be aimed at this one as well, it seems to me that for all the productions of this play that come along, they rarely turn out to be flawless crowd pleasers.