Romeo and Juliet: in brief
Shakespeare’s timeless romantic tragedy returns for a contemporary revival, starring Hollywood pretty boy Orlando Bloom, who will play Montague to Tony nominee Condola Rashad’s Capulet. In David Leveaux’s modernized staging, the star-crossed lovers are divided by racial tensions, though they’ll still employ the Bard’s original language. Get those hankies ready.
Romeo and Juliet: theater review by David Cote
In David Leveaux’s handsome but weirdly restrained Romeo and Juliet, the Montagues are played by white actors and the Capulets by black ones, and the civil unrest that roils Verona’s streets is good old-fashioned racial animosity. The tactic is as old as West Side Story and has been repeated many times since. If used, the concept ought to inform an entire production and shed light on Shakespeare’s classic tale about the timelessness of love and the bad timing of impetuous youths in love. But, as with many of Leveaux’s slick and often empty forays onto Broadway, the color-coding is only skin-deep.
Chances are the idea followed the casting of Condola Rashad as Juliet and Orlando Bloom as Romeo. But the world that we see at the Richard Rodgers Theatre is an all-too-familiar, stylized mix of modern clothes and attitudes (Romeo enters on a motorcycle) and heavy-handed gestures to a faded past (a late-medieval fresco on a back wall covered in graffiti). When Leveaux and set designer Jesse Poleshuck want to telegraph danger or passion, they shoot flames from vertical and horizontal poles that traverse the space. Like the lead actors, it’s pretty to look at, but seldom connects with anything deep.
Chemistry is what you look for in the title pairing, and that’s noticeably lacking here. Rashad is always lovely and effortlessly charming, but she’s been encouraged to play up the textual fact that Juliet is a mere 13. Thus she’s all dewy innocence and saucer eyes, line readings stuck too high in a girlish register. Bloom conveys a slightly older hipster (which gives the romance a provocative, asymmetrical twist), while embracing Romeo’s foppish, self-loving side. We don’t get many revivals of the classic on professional stages, so it’s safe to say that Bloom’s swaggering, matinee-idol Romeo will be the most engaging you’ll see in years. But this is also the least erotically charged or sexually frank Romeo and Juliet I’ve ever attended.
In the supporting roles, Jayne Houdyshell is a lovable but too-shrewd Nurse and Christian Camargo overdoes the crotch-grabbing as cynical Mercutio. All would be forgiven, though, if the young lovers’ ardor could burn brighter than the pyrotechnic F/X.—Theater review by David Cote
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote
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