News Column

Yet Another Indistinguishable 'Romeo'

October 17, 2013

YellowBrix

THEATER REVIEW

ROMEO AND JULIET

Off-Broadway play revival, at the Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St.

Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Tea Alagic.

With Elizabeth Olsen, Julian Cihi, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Daniel Davis.

Schedule: 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $60. 212-352-3101 or classicstage.org.

The dramatic impact of the "Romeo and Juliet" that opened Wednesday night at the Classic Stage Company is comparable to being hit in the head with a soggy cream puff.

Ineffectually directed by Tea Alagic, the production is as flimsy a presentation of a Shakespeare tragedy as I've seen.

The one thing Alagic got right was casting Shakespeare's title teens with actors who actually look the age. Unfortunately, they also behave like stereotypical teenagers.

Elizabeth Olsen, who made a big impression with her first major film role, in the 2011 "Martha Marcy May Marlene," is a sweet- looking, enormously appealing young actress. But her Juliet has an unchanging, sugary girlishness; there's no glimpse of the resolute woman Juliet should grow into.

Romeo is Julian Cihi, a newcomer with little distinction at this point in his career. With long black hair, a slight build and a thin voice, he has a meager presence.

When the play begins, Romeo is swooning over Rosaline. When he spies Juliet, his yen shifts in her direction. You feel that in a week, he'd be ga-ga over another young lady of Verona.

Without a strong sense of a focused, consuming passion between this Romeo and Juliet, we have no reason to believe they'd sacrifice their lives for love. There's certainly limited ardor in the way they speak to each other, in a drably unpoetic version of the most lyrical of Shakespeare's plays.

The topper, though, in the language department is Daphne Rubin- Vega's portrayal of Juliet's faithful nurse. She plays the woman as a Latin from Manhattan, with the requisite attitude, street savvy and inflections.

In her pronunciation, the lovers are HOO-li-et and Ro-MAY-o (except when she slips and says plain old RO-meo). This might raise havoc with her lines' meter, except neither she nor most anyone else seems to be aware the writing is in blank verse. (Rubin-Vega and several other actors even drop in Spanish phrases here and there.) One of the few exceptions is Daniel Davis, who speaks clearly and resoundingly as Friar Laurence, but brings little other than round tones to his portrayal.

As the sharp-tongued, hot-tempered Mercutio, T.R. Knight mumbles and stumbles around like a serious depressive.

The one actor who makes a positive impression is David Garrison, who gives a strong, consistent, effective performance as Juliet's father, Lord Capulet.

Physically, the show matches lack of drama with paltry imagination.

The near-bare playing space has no upper level, so Juliet does her balcony scene ("O, Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?") sitting on a plain chair at the back of the stage.

And since the show's fights are punch-outs rather than engagements with swords or knives, the characters kill by dipping their hands in a bucket of "blood" and smearing their rivals' clothing red.

The entire production feels like a collection of isolated ideas, with nothing connected stylistically or thematically to anything else. Following the similarly underwhelming "Romeo and Juliet" that debuted on Broadway in September, and the poorly received film version that opened last week, it's been a rough fall for young love.

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