The DVD of “Romeo and Juliet” I borrowed from the John Jermain Memorial Library the other day as a brusher-upper got me into the spirit of the 16th century language. But the stately BBC version of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved and most staged dramas decidedly glossed over the bawdy parts.
You hardly knew they were there, so smooth were these lines delivered, even with Alan Rickman’s strong oaky bass as the rapscallion Tybalt.
Pity. For as the epigram goes, “A dirty mind is a constant joy.”
Shakespeare and the energetic and clever Josh Gladstone certainly got that memo. Mr. Gladstone, director of and actor in the current and counterculture staging of “Romeo and Juliet” at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall in East Hampton, thoroughly mines the raucous and ribald that’s right there in the long-gone linguistics. No lewd pun goes unnoted.
Despite the overarching darkness to descend in the second act as the thwarted lovers—the only children of the patriarchs of warring clans—march toward their untimely demise, what fun the first half is!
The staging is flat-out dazzling. There is hardly any set in the sense that we are used to: a scaffolding, a bed, a six-pack of foam cubes—that’s about it. The costumes are current; Juliet in black and white hi-tops and a flirty dress rides in on a Razor scooter, Romeo in hip leather boots whizzes around on a skateboard. T-shirts and jeans of every hue work for the young-uns of the quarreling Capulets and Montagues.
But Joe Brondo’s eclectic and stunning projections of photos, animations, and computer graphics projected to three-quarters of the hall with Sebastian Paczynski’s precise lighting here make elaborate stage sets seem so last century. Together, what they have wrought is exciting and fresh: A couple of bits with solid washes of vivid lighting against the naked stage, where dancers make shadows on the background, are eye candy, even for the jaded used to high-tech special effects.
Robust sword fights and other shenanigans that burble up between the young men of the opposing tribes of Montague and the Capulet (staged by Dan Renkin) and zippy disco dancing at the ball where Romeo first spies his love (choreographed by Kate Mueth) add to the whir of excitement. Instead of the stately pirouetting of traditional stagings, this troupe of young people—mostly local high school students—does jazzy numbers worthy of a YouTube video.
Mr. Renkin and Ms. Mueth also appear, in order, as the busybody Friar Lawrence and the chatty, observant and earthy Nurse to Juliet. Both are talented, seasoned pros, and they stand out against the sheen of the younger troupe of rather newly minted alumni of drama schools with experience in local theater hither and yon.
In real life, Ms. Mueth is married to Mr. Gladstone. Besides directing, he adeptly joins her on stage as the Capulet patriarch, Juliet’s father, a role he took over late in the rehearsals when Springs resident and seasoned actor Robert Anthony had to recuse himself due to an injury. Luckily, Mr. Gladstone had played the part before—but that was in the last century in Montauk, when he and his cousin, the composer David M. Brandenburg, put on those memorable Shakespeare productions at Roosevelt State Park some of us remember fondly.
Mr. Brandenburg is present here too, for he melded a sampling of various rock tracks as well as wrote original music, including a live jazz interlude with a French horn and backup singers. The lyrics are actually choric monologues from the text. In one place they are accompanied by the able Carlos Lama, who plays the Prince, as well as recites the interludes foretelling the action. In his other life, Mr. Lama heads the tribute band Cracked Actor.
But a play is not a play without the players: Red haired Olivia De Salvo is Juliet, fresh, innocent and sweet; Alex Might is Romeo, infatuated and fledgling. Both are New York City imports who play well together, if at times you want Mr. Might to be somewhat less lovestruck, and, well, mighty in spirit.
Charlie Westfal, tall and commanding, takes over the stage as Romeo’s cousin Mercutio, milking the role with boyish braggadocio to the delight of the many teenagers (and moi) in the audience last Saturday night. Mr. Westfal runs away with every scene he’s in.
The cast and production crew include a handful of high school students from Pierson and East Hampton: Frankie Bademci, Michael Clancy, Gaylin Davey, Jamar Jones, Lola Lama, Eden Lowlicht and Reilly Rose Schombs on stage, and Tiffany Farez-Cajamaraca, Madeline Kane and Sarbrina Ricci backstage. All were paid, and for most it was their first professional acting gig.
The first act climaxes with bookend deaths of two of the stalwarts from the opposing clans, and thus the plot goes dark in the second act, and—as every educated person knows—ends with a misbegotten double suicide.
The second act alone has enough plot points for a miniseries, but Shakespeare was not to be daunted by mere time constraints. The second act does seem looooong, but not because the acting or anything else lags; it is long. Written long. Here Mr. Brondo’s compelling visuals really pop and enliven the end of the three-and-a-half-hour show.
One usually doesn’t back into the acting in review, but the overall impact of lively, well done theater is what this reviewer tuned in to as soon as the kids appeared on stage with their rock and roll vibe. This “Romeo and Juliet” sizzles with energy. Even Mr. Gladstone described this third time with the play (he’d directed it before at Guild Hall, in 2001) as the more “anarchic, evolved and madcap.”
Even without seeing them, we’ll second that.
William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” continues at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. and Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. through March 25. Tickets are $25, or $23 for Guild Hall members and $10 for students. Visit guildhall.org or call 631-324-4050.
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One fine body…