R + J=LOVE
REVIEW: ROMEO AND JULIET
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
Of the 37 plays written by William Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet is still a household name after 400 years. Everyone knows the plot of this tragic story: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy loses girl, and boy and girl die, the end. However, what’s sometimes lost in translation are the powerful themes of hate, love, war, fear and recklessness that are still relevant in our modern society. This is where A Noise With steps in alongside director Dámaso Rodríguez as they present a raw and contemporary reimagining of this classic tale. A Noise Within’s Romeo and Juliet is a visceral renouvellement (or rejuvenation) that speaks to the primitivism of the human condition as expressed through The Bard’s seminal tale.
With a telling of Romeo and Juliet such as this, you get the sense that there is a source of inspiration that is responsible for igniting this concept—and in this case there is such a source. Director Rodríguez says about this:
“We have a frame story of an acting company like the ones I saw in Cuba: their costumes will be clothes they own, the props are ones they found on the street, the setting will be urban, and the play will exist in telling rather than the trappings. And the plays with just the actors themselves having to rely on their skills, were powerful and inspirational.”
And with this statement, we get a production that is urban and grungy in the best kind of way. Actors wear denim, tank tops, trench coats, leather jackets, sneakers, strap-up boots and anything else they have in their personal wardrobe. The set consists of a brick wall covered in graffiti, chain linked fences, two large dumpsters, and a dirty mattress. Will all of this, Rodríguez takes us into a world we know, a world that in reality we often avoid, but this is the arena where the tragic story of these two affluent kids unfolds—showing that love and tragedy do not discriminate.
Another aspect of the play that Rodríguez adapts is the delivery of Shakespeare’s dialogue. All the loftiness of the lines are replaced with focused human emotion—the raw passion and even humor are brought out through the actor’s portrayal. One of the most effective techniques in this production is the use of rhythm executed by the banging on the dumpsters and cowbell by the ensemble—this underlining driving sense of rhythm serves to heighten the most powerful scenes in the play.
Romeo (Will Bradley) is the cool, tough and quintessential love struck boy. Bradley is a perfect modern-day Romeo who delivers his lines like rock ‘n roll verses. Once he meets Juliet, there is a driving force about him that just won’t stop until the end. Juliet (Donnla Hughes) is an angst-ridden teenager who’s overflowing with sexuality. Hughes’ performance is fascinating—she takes Juliet from child to woman and her transformation is powerful. June Carryl plays both Juliet’s nurse and Prince Escalus, two characters that couldn’t be more dissimilar. Carryl effectively brings out the comedy in the scenes as the Nurse showing us the humanity in that character. As the Prince, she is strong and authoritative. No matter which character, whenever Carryl speaks the audience is absolutely captivated. Romeo’s two right-hand men Benvolio (Charlotte Gulezian) and Mercutio (Rafael Goldstein) make the best dynamic duo. Gulezian is the fun and kooky peacekeeper—she’s a delightful trickster—wonderfully sincere. Goldstein is the loose cannon and drug addict who relishes in making trouble; his performance is gritty and engaging.
If you think even for a second that the works of Shakespeare are no longer relevant, than this production is especially for you. A Noise Within’s Romeo and Juliet is powerful, engaging and starkly contemporary. Romeo and Juliet plays from February 14 through May 8 at A Noise Within in Pasadena. For more information and tickets visit: www.anoisewithin.org.