A review of Shakespeare Dallas’ “Romeo and Juliet”
Sometimes it’s like someone took a knife, baby, edgy and dull
And cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my skull
At night, I wake up with the sheets soakin’ wet
And a freight train runnin’ through the middle of my head
Only you can cool my desire.
Where true Love burns Desire is Love’s pure flame;
It is the reflex of our earthly frame,
That takes its meaning from the nobler part,
And but translates the language of the heart.
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I recently had the pleasure of leading Shakespeare Dallas’ “Script Club,” where attendees read through the working script of an upcoming show and discuss the play. One question that spurred a great deal of discussion was “Does Juliet take after her mom or her dad?” It’s a tricky question because a large chunk of this is determined by the actor and director and what they want to make use of in the text. Is Juliet quick to anger and rebellion like her dad (“A sword I say! Old Montague is come!”) due to his desire to see his daughter married or a seeming peacemaker who uses religious language like her mom, who checks her husband in the opening scene “Thou shalt not stir a foot to seek a foe!” Before we attempt to answer that question here, allow me to at least briefly mention the lede: Shakespeare Dallas’ production of “Romeo and Juliet” is now playing at Samuel-Grand Amphitheatre (1500 Tennison Parkway, Dallas, TX) through Oct. 16, 2021.
My humble first pass at this question revolves around Kristen Lazarchick’s incredible performance as Juliet to say that she is a product of her environment, and the trauma related to her relationship with her parents. She is desperate to escape her defacto cloistering, intensely susceptible to the both the slimmest opportunity of freedom from her parents as well as a child (the text puts her at 13 years old) entering a world that includes both sex and death, but stuck emotionally and physically by the bounds and mores of the society in which she was raised. But (aside from Billy Idol….) what’s absent from that interpretation? What’s missing in the art of the playwright, the production or the performance?
In part, it’s the thing that is the most important part of the play and also the most open to interpretation from actors and directors: why do Romeo and Juliet fall in love so fast? Is it rebellion? Is it lust? Is it love? Whatever it is, it would seem it must spring from an overwhelming desire. And making the audience feel that desire is there is one of the key challenges of the play. The many film adaptations get such an easy time of this because of the close-up. Put the camera in tight on the eyes of what will no doubt be physically attractive actors playing Romeo and Juliet, drop a little music and adjust the lighting appropriately and you can at least manufacture something like desire. But what do you have to work with on stage — where this play is meant to be performed? One can still use the sound and lighting, but what you have to make use of is tone and movement. It’s even made explicit in the text with Romeo’s line of “love goes towards love, as schoolboys from their books.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t overly convinced in Romeo’s (played by Nick Marchetti) tone or movement that what fueled him, what was overpowering and what he couldn’t deny, was his desire for Juliet.
The play’s production and ensemble made up for much of this with its lovely 1980’s popular cultural nostalgia, which is visually stunning in terms of set design (Jeffrey Schmidt), Costume Design (Korey Kent), Lighting Design (Aaron Johnson). Kellen Voss as sound designer and musical director continues his masterful contributions to the production as well as exquisitely timed and selected music and scoring. The fight and movement choreography of Sarah J. Romersberger also continues to shine (though again, Romeo’s movement with regards to Juliet left me with some questions as to the character’s desire).
The ensemble was overall both incredibly capable and the most diverse I’ve seen at Samuel-Grand. Several of the actors were first time members of a Shakes Dallas cast, including Mr. Marchetti as well as Kevin Solis (Peter), Christian Wilson (Paris/Prince), Francine Gonzalez (Agraham/Second Watchman/Sister Joan), Monalisa Amidar (Montague) and Omar Padilla (Sampson, Apothecary, First Watchman). It was lovely to see so many new members of the cast so adept at their craft. Nicole Berastequi’s as a Joan Jett inspired Tybalt could and should be a mainstay in every performance. I’d watch Ms. Berastequi as Joan Jett as Cordelia or Cleopatra or Beatrice, whatever is premiering next. Marcus Stimac as Mercutio brought the house to raucous applause several times as well. Ethan Norris as Capulat showed off his impressive range and Rosaura Cruz as Lady Capulet was in equal turns hilarious and emotionally devastating.
Director Jenni Stewart took a big risk in constructing this play from 1980’s pop culture. It could have gone terribly wrong and turned into a “schlock and awe” production, but there’s so much of this play that is based on nostalgia for our youth: our first love, our problems with our parents (possibly stemming from being too much like them) during our teenage years, or our first date at a movie theater, that utilizing visual and sound cues from the 1980’s brings an instant connection to this reviewer and by the reaction of the crowd, to much of the audience as well.
[A version of this review appeared in Katy Trail Weekly]