Seattle 3/20/2003 | The opening
of Seattle Rep's Romeo and Juliet could not have come at
a less auspicious time. Sandwiched between the initial salvos of
the Iraq war and the handing out of the Oscars, how could it hope
to grab its audience's attention? I must admit to my own distraction
at the Thursday performance, torn away from watching the news media's
endless speculation about the success of Wednesday's attempted "decapitation
Yet in the event, the performance harmonized well with my and the
audience's mood. We may have been hoping for a brilliant blast of
romantic love to lift us out of the fog of war. Instead, that fog
itself found dramatic representation.
Back in the throes of a madder war, Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film
version succeeded by making us all fall in love with its stars Leonard
Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Girls went home dreaming of being Olivia
and marrying Leonard - not of their fathers risking their lives
in the Tet Offensive. In calmer times, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire
Danes set Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film version alight, seducing scores
of girls into Leonardo idolatry and securing Luhrmann a buzz sufficient
to fund the spectacular-spectacular exuberance of 2001's best picture
(if, alas, not the Oscar winner), Moulin Rouge.
Sadly, the lightly experienced duo at the heart of the Rep's new
production - James Ginty as Romeo, Cynthia Boorujy as Juliet - are
not the stuff such dreams are made on. Director Sharon Ott seems
to have opted for verisimilitude in this production: we get a couple
of gawky adolescents just fooling around, not the grand passion
beyond their years we've a right to expect. Their meeting is so
ordinary that the most memorable part of the Capulets' ball is the
violence with which Capulet prevents Tybalt from assaulting Romeo.
The balcony scene spoils Romeo's best lines by turning them into
I should have been warned by the in-your-face ad campaign that
bore the slogan "Love Conquers Everything...Except Stab Wounds
and Poisoning" above Romeo and Juliet's names scrawled on the
wall in what looked like blood, separated by a sword. Or by the
press release, which quotes Ott quoting the Kathleen Thompson screed
contained in the program, "In the current world situation,
it is impossible to look at Romeo and Juliet without comprehending
that [it] is not primarily about love, [but] violence."
Last time I looked, the play seemed to be about passion above all
- the meeting ground of violence and love, where sex is born, along
with blood feuds and a few other things. Circumstances seem to have
pushed Ott in another direction, however, away from love and towards
all out war - which, as we've only just begun to remember, displays
an awful tendency to become a miserable, long-drawn-out, almost
bureaucratic business in the end, something that is about the farthest
thing you can imagine from passion.
And so the Prince here is no prince, but a kind of dictator, with
secret police thugs patrolling the town, their swords turning into
pistols before the curtain falls. Ott cuts Montague and Capulet's
last exchange, where they finally bury the hatchet by pledging to
erect golden statues of each other's child, so as not to detract
from the martial mood, I suppose.
Enlivening the Rep's production are outstanding performances from
Laura Kenny as the Nurse and Ted D'Arms as Friar Laurence - these
two characters here steal the show. Also deserving mention is Tom
Story's manic, bedlamic Mercutio - kinetically entertaining, if
a little over the top. Ralph Funicello's post-modern Palladian sets
provided soaring spaces for the action to unfold, dark and portentous.