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A New Romeo and Juliet Heats up the Stage ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
September 21, 2016

The Lansburgh’s stage was drenched in red for Director Alan Paul’s Romeo and Juliet – the carpet, the soaring pillars, the balcony, the walls, even the balloons floating from the ceiling when Romeo first spies the captivating Juliet at a party. Was it red for the color of blood, as in the knife fights the Montagues wage against the Capulets? Or lipstick red for romance? Either way, Paul’s production was on fire, as in fire engine red, reflected by Dane Laffrey’s set design.

Ayana Workman as Juliet and Andrew Veenstra as Romeo in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet, directed by Alan Paul. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Ayana Workman as Juliet and Andrew Veenstra as Romeo in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet, directed by Alan Paul. Photo by Scott Suchman.

This freshly minted staging put me in mind of the Jets and the Sharks from West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein’s famous borrowing of R&J as his inspiration. As here too the characters live in contemporary society and Romeo’s gun-toting, knife-wielding friends are portrayed as dissolute Italian gang members, while Juliet gads about in blue jeans as the typical lovelorn teen. There are no innuendos, no subtleties in Paul’s staging – just raw sex, raw anger and pure sensual passion. Oh, yes, it’s hot, like the business end of a gun when Tybalt (Alex Mickiewicz) and the young Montagues put out a hit on Romeo.

Alex Mickiewicz as Tybalt, Jeffrey Carlson as Mercutio and Andrew Veenstra as Romeo in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet, directed by Alan Paul. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Alex Mickiewicz as Tybalt, Jeffrey Carlson as Mercutio and Andrew Veenstra as Romeo in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet, directed by Alan Paul. Photo by Scott Suchman.

We have choreographers Eric Sean Fogel to thank for the constantly swirling action, and David Leong to thank for the fight scenes, though it couldn’t have come together quite as believably if there weren’t an outstanding cast to thank for this refreshing reinterpretation of the characters – Andrew Veenstra as the pugnacious, hipster Romeo; Jeffrey Carlson as his stylish club kid buddy Mercutio (scene stealer alert!); Ayana Workman in a version of Juliet that oozes girlish innocence; and Inga Ballard as Juliet’s wise-cracking, no nonsense Black nurse.

Inga Ballard as Nurse and Ayana Workman as Juliet. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Inga Ballard as Nurse and Ayana Workman as Juliet. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Include Keith Hamilton Cobb as Juliet’s father, who presents us with a Capulet patriarch of fearsome presence and bullish swagger – his portrayal so credible it will scare you out of your seat.

Costume Designer Kaye Voyce delivers the atmosphere, most especially when Mercutio shows up in spiked hair and a tight silver lame suit to the masked ball, which would be better described as an electro club mix house party, and Juliet’s mother, played by Judith Lightfoot who swans around her party guests in a gold lamé gown. Totally anarchical, but at this point we are up for it.

So thank you, Alan Paul. You have gifted your audiences with a surprising and delightful, break-all-the-rules, fresh spin on the old classic. This is what theatre is all about!

Highly recommended.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre through November 6th at 450 7th Street, NW Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

 

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