Last weekend, when Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre gave William Shakespeare’s timeless 16th century tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, an American Civil War setting, a battle between the Blue and the Gray seemed to be in the offing, with Juliet and the Capulets clashing with Romeo and the Montagues. But nothing like that happened on closing night last Saturday. The cities of Verona and Mantua were redubbed Virginia and Maryland; and director Jerry Sipp retained the character of Prince Escalus (strutted and fretted by Brook North), who had powers of life and death over an unspecified portion of Old Virginny.
The Prince’s flowery kinsman Count Paris (Allan Maule) flounced around in an ersatz Confederate uniform while counting a disdainful Juliet (Sydney Mitchell). Lord and Lady Capulet (John Honeycutt and Susannah Hough) also wore gray, but Lord and Lady Montague (David Hudson and Amber Wood) wore black(!) Meanwhile, most of the rest of the brawlers of Team Capulet and Team Montague wore indistinguishable 19th century duds, and sashayed around the stage with cavalry swords strapped to their belts and black-powder rifles with fixed bayonets(!) in their hands. Color-blind casting of the Prince’s kinsman and Romeo’s friend Mercutio (Jade Arnold), Romeo’s friend and confessor Friar Lawrence (Carlos Massey), Juliet’s earthy Nurse (Carly Jones), etc., further confused matters.
But the biggest stumbling-block for this disappointing production was the diction — Shakespearean diction — that most of the cast lacked. Even with body mics, few cast members could declaim their lines distinctly. Thick Southern accents — many of them forced and phony — chewed up line after glorious line, and spit out mush.
Movie-star-handsome 27-year-old Ira David Wood IV as Romeo made a dreamy Romeo, and demonstrated time and again that the Immortal Bard’s poetry had touched his soul; and the always reliable John Honeycutt and the underutilized Susannah Hough put plenty of personality into their portrayals of the Capulets as Southern sympathizers. But Jade Arnold dulled Mercutio’s waspish wit, Carlos Massey was largely unintelligible as he rattled off Friar Lawrence’s lines, and Carly Jones failed to get her teeth into the meaty role of Juliet’s Nurse.
Ira Wood and Sydney Mitchell demonstrated little chemistry as, perhaps, the most famous pair of lovers on the English stage. And her line readings lacked the lilt of his.
Most of the sword fights looked like the combatants were playing patty cake, and Romeo and Juliet’s extended death scene — in which the freshly widowed bride had to wrench a bayonet off of a musket to skewer herself — was not only ludicrous, but painful to watch for those of us who love Shakespeare.
The Play (background): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_and_Juliet (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/romeoscenes.html (Shakespeare-Online.com, with the plays annotated by Amanda Mabillard).
Study Guides: http://boothamphitheatre.com/files/2012/06/RJ-Educational-Experiential-Guide.pdf (Koka Booth Amphitheatre) and http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/romeo/juliet.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
Ira David Wood IV: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_David_Wood_IV (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.
To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.