By Kyle Osborne
‘Romeo and Juliet’ is already considered the most accessible (if not over exposed) of Shakespeare’s works. But the new adaptation at Shakespeare Folger Theatre kicks the door open even wider. This is not your father’s Shakespeare—it’s your daughter’s.
The centuries old tragedy has been given an almost sit-com treatment for the first act. Director Aaron Posner’s take is rather ingenuous and yet a little of it goes a long way. Here’s the idea: while speaking the original language, hardly changing a single word, the actors convey clarity, or an unforeseen comic take on the material, or both, through body language, intonation and, sometimes, old fashioned mugging and face-pulling. An unexpected slap on the ass by one character to another gets a shocked laugh, for example. But by the end of the first act, the Folger audience has seen more ass-slapping than the secretaries in the San Diego Mayor’s office. Again—very cool, but let’s moderate, so as to keep the purists from shaking their heads with a faintly audible “tsk, tsk.”
The game cast of veterans includes Michael Goldsmith as Romeo in kind of a “dude” interpretation that fits the actual age of the character. The beautiful Erin Weaver as Juliet, has been adored by this critic in other roles—she sings like an angel in musicals, and has comedic chops, to boot. In this case, her foot-stomping kind of “Oh, Mom!” delivery seems just right at first, but feels like the wrong tone for the latter parts of the play and Juliet’s journey. That said, Weaver offers a unique spin on some of the most well-worn lines. You brace yourself for a reading of “Oh, Romeo, Romero, Wherefore Art Thou…” that won’t be shrill or jarring, and Weaver lays it right in the pocket with a gentle touch.
Of particular note is Brad Koed as Mercutio. He was so amazing in Posner’s “Stupid Fucking Bird” at Woolly Mammoth last spring, and brings back a sort of Ralph Cramden meets Charlie Day vibe that is urgent and comical.
The undated costumes are inventive in a vaguely “Steam Punk” inspired way, and the choreography on the small stage is both clever and practical. The center aisle gets more use than the Dulles runway-keep all arms and legs inside the pew, please.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ as told by Posner, gave me insights into the text that I’d never seen before. How amazing is that? But having references to smoking pot and eating ice cream were just a bit too cute—and you know what they say, no matter how cool something might be, if it takes the viewer out of the story being told, well, you gotta lose it. Or perhaps use less of it.
Romeo and Juliet is at the Folger Theatre through December 1. Running time is about two and a half hours, with one intermission. Tickets ($30 to $72) are available at: Shakespeare Folger Theatre Website www.folger.edu/