by JK Clarke
Shakespeare’s timelessness is proved time and again through its myriad interpretations. A great play we know all too well can be presented in a manner that gives us a new viewpoint that forces us to reexamine all of our prior interpretations. Sometimes that difference manifests itself within a very short distance in both time and space. Case in point: Romeo and Juliet is experiencing two simultaneous, but very, very different productions in New York at this very moment: one (reviewed here by Theater Pizzazz’s Marcina Zaccaria) presented by The Public Theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit, is a stripped down, gritty and intense production that is geared to bringing Shakespeare to communities in regional prisons, women’s shelters and community groups. The other, just down the street and across the Manhattan Bridge from The Public, is Aquila Theatre’s soft, fluid, modern dance-driven production at the GK ArtsCenter (formerly home to St. Ann’s Warehouse). Same play, but two entirely different yet equally satisfying productions, separated by the East River.
Elegantly directed and adapted by Desiree Sanchez, this Romeo & Juliet is a flowing, ethereal production bathed in hues of white. The costumes (Clare Amos) are designed for dancers, with white flowing sheets and robes that beautifully float around the actors and the minimalist white stage (Desiree Sanchez) framed by moveable white blocks. It’s a dreamlike adventure, which fits the emotions of teen-aged love that is the heart of the story. One of Sanchez’s brilliant moves, drawn from an economy of time and a cast of only five actors is the opening street fight in which members of the House of Capulet encounter men from the House of Montague. Though the encounter provides memorable dialog (“Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?”) Sanchez eschews the dialog and instead pantomimes in dance the entire scene, yet so expressively and precisely that we don’t miss a bit of information, such that when the edict is read banning fighting between the families upon pain of death, it’s absolutely clear why. Throughout the production, in fact, superfluous (in this case) dialog is portrayed in movement in a way that conveys not only meaning, but feeling. Aquila’s actors are not only well trained theatrically, but clearly have deep background in dance. Like Peter Groom, who plays, with great variation, the Nurse, Tybalt and Paris, and (like Michael Rivers who plays Romeo), is appears to be a trained and talented dancer. His ability to inhabit characters with physical movement is a joy to watch. Kirsten Foster plays a believable Juliet, sweet and wide-eyed (and who also moves beautifully) and Jackie Schram’s Lady/Lord Capulet is a pleasure to watch. The actors on the whole are better at expressing themselves physically than verbally, but they handle the dialog ably enough. The production is also buffeted Alberto Segarra’s subtle but impactful lighting design: a moon appears projected on a wall, but in a way that we realize slowly, it’s not suddenly thrust upon us. And James McDaniel’s design of a dress that connects Lady Capulet to Juliet through an enormous, long train, while also acting as a part of the set, adds to the overall emotion and mood of the play.
To paraphrase the Romeo & Juliet’s opening Chorus, this production demonstrates that two versions of the same play, “both alike in dignity” can be two sides of the same coin, and though while different are equally enjoyable in their own revealing ways.
Romeo and Juliet. Through April 22 at the GK ArtsCenter (29 Jay Street, DUMBO Brooklyn). www.aquilatheatre.com
Photos by Richard Termine