A New Take on the Most Classic of Love Storiesposted on February 17th, 2012 by Kaitlin Overton
The Montclair State Department of Theatre and Dance opened their spring semester with William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The production is quite unique for a number of reasons, the first being that it’s set during “Anytime,” but still in Verona, Italy, as in the original text. This immediately invited audience members to experience the piece with an open mind, because it clearly wasn’t going to be your traditional, run-of-the-mill Shakespeare production.
Further aspects that put a twist on the classic tale were the costumes and set—or lack thereof—which put more emphasis on the characters themselves as individuals. Each actor wore a very specific costume that was geared to articulate who that individual was as a person. For example, Lady Capulet sported a slim red dress and black high heels, which enhanced her forceful and powerful position in the house. The lack of set and props further pushed this production away from the traditional approach and gave the actors more responsibility to tell the story clearly.
The set included two platforms, one small and one large, and a ladder placed atop the larger platform, which served as a podium for Prince Escalus and as the famous balcony. The actors transformed the ladder beautifully into those different structures, and without using any other props or physical elements, just themselves. When we first see Juliet, she is settled on the balcony in her bedroom, and we often see her gazing at the moon from this view; I was able to picture the tower of which that window ledge was a part. When Prince Escalus spoke to the people of the city, he was perched above them, standing upright at an imaginary podium, but I was able to visualize the podium because of how well the actor positioned himself, as opposed to Juliet’s more relaxed position as she admired the stars and moonlight. Furthermore, the actors had such a great grasp of the language that they didn’t really need any more physical elements in order to tell the story. The way the students handled the language of this piece was very impressive.
A few actors stood out to me, and I was impressed that they weren’t leading players but still told the story gracefully and generously as actors; they were very unselfish in how they portrayed the characters. Each actor made consciously subtle choices as opposed to being over the top in any way that would steal the spotlight. Alejandro Hernandez’s Mercutio was bold and daring; he created an amusing, entertaining atmosphere wherever he went, which was really fun to watch. He brought a sense of playfulness with a hint of crude humor that wasn’t so obnoxious as to be annoying. Ricky Soto played a number of parts as servants and watchmen for the Capulet family. He was incredibly charming, humble, and just plain adorable in all he did and was generous in not trying to upstage his fellow actors. Mike Lasry as Tybalt gave another very strong performance. His diction was exceptionally clear, his eyes always intense. He made some powerful choices—again, without trying to steal the spotlight.
The one aspect of this performance that remained especially constant throughout its two-and-a-half-hour length was that the actors seemed to be having a great time on stage, and they all seemed proud of their work. This, then, translated into a genuineness in the characters they were portraying. These were the moments during which strong acting technique really shone through amidst difficult text—both sometimes get muddled up in each other, but both stood out during these truthfully fun moments. The actors handled Shakespeare’s text eloquently and should be very proud of fearlessly taking on such a revered theatrical text.
Kaitlin Overton is an undergraduate BA Theatre Studies student at Montclair State University.