This summer, the Royal Shakespeare Company did a six week residency in New York City at the Park Avenue Armory as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Naturally, being a lover of all things Shakespeare (well, at least the performances; I’ve actually recently discovered I like watching adaptations of Shakespeare much more than I like reading the plays), I had to check it out. I was pleased to see that they were performing Romeo and Juliet, one of my favorites and one that I like to see in as many different capacities as possible. This was also an opportunity to see one of the top Shakespeare companies perform, and since I won’t find myself in Stratford-Upon-Avon anytime soon, it was a pretty good deal. If I had the time and money, I would’ve seen the other offerings as well – I was particularly interested in As You Like It and The Winter’s Tale.
First off, these productions are fascinating because the entire theater was built INSIDE the armory and is an exact replica of the theater that exists in Stratford-Upon-Avon. It is your typical Elizabeth-esque theater style, with seating in a “u” shape around the stage. There were entrances and exits to the stage throughout the whole theater – in fact, sitting on the aisle I had many actors and actresses run past me throughout the production.
Getting back to Romeo and Juliet, I didn’t know anything about the production beforehand. I didn’t read any reviews so I was surprised to overhear someone say during the intermission that the play got a terrible write up in the New York Times. Personally, I didn’t agree with the Times. I loved the production, for the sole reason that it made me feel like I’ve never seen Romeo and Juliet before, and I’ve seen at least three stage productions, the ballet version and every movie adaptation available.
The first thing one is likely to notice upon seeing this production is that Romeo and Juliet are dressed in contemporary clothing while the other characters are all in traditional Elizabeth garb. To me, this was a connection back to the prologue of the play, where Shakespeare writes “ancient grudge break to new mutiny.” I felt that the characters who were all still a part of, or affected by, this ancient grudge in some way continued to be “behind the times” and still wore these Elizabethan clothes, whereas Romeo and Juliet were trying to break away from it. Whatever the reason behind this costuming/design choice though, it was clear that Romeo and Juliet were meant to stand out from the rest of the characters; they were meant to be different.
However, to further prove my theory, Shakespeare’s prologue also states “do with their death bury their parents’ strife.” When Romeo and Juliet die, it is assumed that the grudge is over. At the end of play, once Romeo and Juliet are both death, all the other characters appear in modern day clothes, as though they have finally been brought up to modern times. Interestingly though, when Romeo and Juliet are at the point of death (starting with Juliet’s taking the potion from Friar Laurence), they are both wearing Elizabethan style clothes, as though the grudge was finally personally affected them. All in all, I thought it was an interesting blend of contemporary and traditional and, at first, thought it was going to bother me that they were dressed differently, but saw that it actually worked very well.
Juliet was played by Mariah Gale, who played the character as a willful child who, even after meeting Romeo, seems to have a clear idea of what she wants and how she should go about getting it. This Juliet is not the silly little girl of other productions, at least not in the lovesick kind of way; she is melodramatic when things don’t go the way that she planned. However, this worked for me. Romeo was the understudy. He was good, but there’s nothing really noteworthy about the performance. The supporting cast of characters was also quite good; I particularly liked the Nurse and Mercutio. I felt that Tybalt as a character was almost glossed over, so his death almost didn’t seem like a big deal when it happened. Other than that though, I have no complaints.
I also managed to find a clip on youtube, of the infamous balcony scene… yes, this Romeo is better than the understudy:
Overall, seeing this production was a lovely way to spend a summer afternoon and, again, I wish I had gotten tickets to some of the other productions but, alas, the festival is now over.