Saturday, January 9, 2010

Romeo and Juliet (The Nature Theater of Oklahoma)

After a month off, I'm back in the habit of covering NYC theater & other work that catches my mind's eye. First up, an adaptation of Romeo & Juliet at the Kitchen.

Romeo and Juliet
The Kitchen
January 7, 2010
Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper (directors)

At its core, the Nature Theater of Oklahoma's Romeo and Juliet is about memory. The show recounts  impromptu summaries of Shakespeare's romance delivered to co-directors Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper. Most of the people they interviewed haven't read the script since high school (or they conflate it with West Side Story), and they're fuzzy on the plot—especially the convoluted ending (which lover merely feigns death?). But retelling the story, even in patchwork, inspires people: one subject moves himself visibly in recounting the tragic ending, another recalls a crush extolling the play in gym class, a third compares the work's catharsis to her feelings after the WTC attacks. These moments are lovely and human.

But the actors must struggle to impart individuality and texture to each inteview. They're directed to play in a hambone style, pronouncing words plummily (the “bal-CONE-y” scene) before a painted curtain right out of Dickens. The show sneers—and invites us to sneer too—at mis-rememberings like “What light through yonder window speaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the west!” This Romeo and Juliet is pretty damned funny, but it's got too much empty irony and hipster surrealism (why the 5-foot-tall dancing chicken? Dunno). Liska & Copper stage a wrestling match with Shakespeare, but of course they can't win. They do concede graciously, however, playing the balcony scene with lights down so we really listen to the words. Paying their interview subjects the same respect would add substance to an enjoyable but empty evening.


Romeo and Juliet plays at the Kitchen (512 W. 19th St., btw. Tenth & Eleventh Ave.), closing on January 16. Tickets?

Photo credit: Kerstin Joensson

No comments: