The play I saw is Romeo and Juliet Redux at The Gladstone Theatre. For those who don’t know the Shakespearean story, it goes like this: Romeo Montague goes to a ball hosted by the Capulets (rivals of his family) and falls in love with Juliet Capulet. After the dance, they meet a couple times and exchange loving remarks. Then, with the help of Juliet’s maid, they secretly get married. Everything seems fine until Romeo, his friend Mercutio, and Juliet’s cousin Tybalt get in a fight. Tybalt and Mercutio are killed and Romeo is blamed for their deaths. Romeo is ordered to leave Verona or be put to death for his supposed crime. Romeo tells Juliet this, and they have a tender parting scene professing their love.
While Romeo is gone, Juliet’s mother Lady Capulet finds her a suitor, a man named Paris. Lady Capulet tells Juliet that her suitor will be coming very soon to marry her. Lady Capulet is unaware that Juliet married Romeo so she doesn’t see why Juliet becomes very upset about marrying someone. To prevent the marriage, Juliet decides to fake her own death. She acquires a poison from an herbalist that will make her look dead. Lady Capulet finds Juliet in her room and they take her to the family crypt, thinking she’s gone forever.
News of Juliet’s death reaches Romeo (he doesn’t know that she has faked her death). He goes to Juliet in the Capulet crypt and kills himself with poison in grief. Juliet wakes up in the crypt to find Romeo dead beside her. She takes Romeo’s knife and stabs herself. At the end of the play, the Capulets and Montagues come to the crypt, and seeing their dead children promise to stop the feud. The play ends with a lot of people dead but with the fighting families as friends.
The Gladstone’s Romeo and Juliet Redux was a different take on this classic story. While the words are Shakespeare’s, the style is modern. The actors were dressed in current clothing, and the stage was unadorned save for an abstract circle of charcoal in the middle of the floor. In the program, the director states his vision for the performance, saying that he used a lot of things from other directors who inspired him. “I’ve tried to use the stolen goods to make something new and personal.” The actors are certainly experienced and I found myself being hooked by their performance.
Nevertheless, I found that the contemporary stage and the actors' attire didn’t draw me into the story as well as it could have. I understand what the director was going for in making it more modern; he wanted to make it different from the thousands of other Romeo and Juliet performances. But I felt that it made the play less immersive. By not having costumes, it was less believable to me. I found myself focusing more on the clothing than the content itself. A Romeo clad in jeans and a t-shirt is not the most romantic thing in the world.
The black circle in the middle of the stage was never explained. I didn’t quite understand it, and I spent most of the play trying to figure out the meaning of it rather than concentrating on the actors. Maybe it didn’t have a meaning at all and was just a black circle, maybe it was trying to tell the audience something, but I have no idea what.
Romeo and Juliet Redux wasn’t bad; I just don’t think I understood the director’s vision. As an audience member, I enjoy more traditional performances with elaborate costumes and sets because I like the visuals better than the words. That may seem wrong coming from a writer but when it comes down to it, I want to go to a play to be entertained. And let’s face it, having Shakespeare spouted at you from someone in modern clothes isn’t as entertaining as someone doing it in full-period dress. The actors were fantastic, but maybe next time the director should leave the redux out of Romeo and Juliet.
Madeleine Lange-Chenier is a small-town girl who much prefers the feel of grass beneath her feet than concrete city streets. She likes to read (mostly fiction), write (just about anything), and tell her pets how cute they are (approximately 1,000 times a day). She makes really good guacamole and really bad cheese scones.