By Marcina Zaccaria
Happy daggers fly as a fierce production of Romeo and Juliet, performed by the Mobile Unit, opens at The Public Theater.
Joe Papp created the Mobile Unit. Its first touring production was produced in 1957. With this year’s Mobile Unit production of Romeo and Juliet, The Public Theater asserts its core values of bringing Shakespeare to the underserved. This year, the play was brought to maximum level prisons, homeless shelters, and other community organizations in the five boroughs.
Obie Award Winning Director Lear deBessonet (Director of Public Works, The Tempest, The Winter’s Tale, and The Odyssey at the Delacorte) builds an energetic production of Romeo and Juliet. It trades an outdoor appreciation of spectacle with immediacy and potency.
Her Mobile Unit Production of Romeo and Juliet has all the verve on a much smaller scale. Romeo and Juliet look like average City Kids, in an ethnically diverse New York City. In the excitement of a square space (looking like a boxing ring), actors bound across the stage. It’s high energy, high impact performance with brilliant fight direction by Thomas Schall. Lear deBessonet creates a necessity in telling this story today. This war between the Capulets and the Montagues features authentic, edgy performances.
Sheldon Best (Romeo) and Ayana Workman (Juliet) are credible. Through the play, the star-crossed lovers never seek to break confidence with those that are close to them. Max Woertendyke (Mercutio, Prince); Jorge Eliézer Chacón (Tybalt);and Danny Rivera (Benvolio) are tough and edgy. Their tone is loud and brash. The scene at the ball feels like a departure. Mahira Kakkar (Lady Capulet) and David Ryan Smith (Friar Laurence, Lord Capulet) are strong, and bring a level of candor to the stage. The story of the star-crossed lovers is relayed with its fair share of fine points and pitfalls. Maria-Christina Oliveras (Nurse, Montague) stands firm and provides comic relief.
In this quintessential love story of two teenagers who find themselves falling in love with each other and falling out of favor with their communities, no meaning is lost. Interestingly, there’s something makeshift about the look of the show. This artistic team has sought to create a play that is mobile – in every way. With this notion, there is a sense of engagement and theatricality. Ladders are wheeled in and benches are carried (sometimes with actors still on them). Party masks are thrown on, and small wooden dowels become weapons. Spare costumes are on racks behind the audience. Action is mixed with energetic song by a fiddle player. The quick-paced action never seems to stop.
Meanwhile, The Public Theater is gearing up for Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater, the first production, Taming of the Shrew, runs May 24 thru June 26. In the past, they have featured large scale productions featuring over 200 performers, with some of the most expressive dance and spoken word on stage.
This Mobile Unit production of Romeo & Juliet is scheduled to run at The Public Theater’s Shiva Theater through Sunday, May 1.