Romeo & Juliet
I don’t want to bother with a spoiler alert, but here it is anyway. It’s Romeo and Juliet. If you don’t already know how it ends, that’s not my problem.
This has always been a problematic play for me. What starts out as a bawdy satire on foolish young love takes, well, a bit of a turn. Either that, or it’s the most brilliant and misinterpreted dark comedy of all time. I’m going to stick with the traditional reading, though.
The bloodbath starts right before intermission and doesn’t let up for an hour and a half. Too bad; it’s better when it’s funny. Yet as difficult as it is to mesh these tragic and comic elements, Pioneer Theatre Company does a commendable job. The production is full of fine performers, but mostly, I applaud director Paul Barnes’ deft use of them. Comic characters are let loose to full effect. Mercutio (David Graham Jones) gets all the good phallic puns and macho swagger, but he remains grounded in humanity.
This allows his death—the hard demarcation between the comedic and tragic portions of the evening—to become genuinely moving.
His companions watch with grim realization while he continues to crack wise between sincere curses with his final breaths.
Juliet’s Nurse (Glynis Bell) is also hilarious, but without being reduced to a caricature. She and Juliet (Amelia McClain) share a playful and believable affection that brightens their scenes together.
McClain as Juliet is the production’s most pleasant surprise. Her treatment of the iconic heroine brims with the silly girlishness you would expect from someone not yet 14 years old, whereas most performances allow her ultimate fate to overshadow her early scenes. Most impressive is the famous balcony scene. What is usually dripping with saccharine sentiment is instead, here, infused with the giggle-inducing effervescence of infatuation along with sincere, if naive, feeling.
The only downside to these performances is that our Romeo (Matt Jared) has a hard time keeping up. He’s not bad; he’s just not very interesting. His sleepwalking reactive nature could work well for the character if he remained the butt of the joke like he starts off. But Jared fails to grow with the role, ultimately coming off as more pathetic than tragic.
By the end, everybody who is supposed to be dead is dead, and warring families reconcile in the aftermath.
The biggest surprise is that had a much better time than I expected. (RT)
ROMEO & JULIET Pioneer Theatre Company, 400 S. 1300 East, 801-581-6961. Through Feb. 28. PioneerTheatre.org
Here’s why theater can be such a fascinating, dynamic medium: The first time I saw a production of Diana Son’s Stop Kiss eight years ago, I thought it was a tragedy.
Thanks to Pygmalion Theatre Company, it now feels like a true romance. That’s not to denigrate TheatreWorks West’s 2001 regional premiere in order to praise this one. Brandie Balken—who directed this time around and played Callie in 2001—has found a different tone with which to explore a story that is both painful and beautiful.
Set in New York City, the play follows the evolving friendship of Callie (Tracie Merrill), a longtime resident of the city, and Sara (Daisy Blake), recently relocated from St. Louis to accept a fellowship teaching grade school in the Bronx. Callie has agreed to take in Sara’s cat, and she eventually becomes Sara’s New York tour guide as well. But as the narrative shifts back and forth in chronology, we realize that their relationship is going to take a surprising turn one night to romantic affection. And on that one night, the simple declaration of their mutual feelings will result in Sara lying comatose in a hospital bed.
The deep stage of the Rose Wagner Studio Theatre has at times proved a challenging place for intimate stories, but Brad Henrie’s set contains the characters effectively, as well as providing an efficient means of shifting between the play’s two timelines. Merrill and Blake click wonderfully, playing off each other with a chemistry that makes the progression of their friendship convincing and sweetly awkward. Merrill in particular faces the challenge of flipping back and forth between innocence and trauma in alternate scenes, and all credit to her for giving both aspects the appropriate emotional pitch.
But the real appeal in Balken’s interpretation comes from choosing not to make the play fundamentally about the gay-bashing incident that splits the two time frames. Where the 2001 production ended with a chilling siren blast of dissonant sound that left you feeling the weight of a hate crime, this one fades out simply on a gentle first kiss. As a result, it lingers in the memory as a story about the way Callie moves from a timid half-life to reaching confidently for her deepest desires. Stop Kiss becomes a tale of two people transformed by their connection to each other—and that puts it in the company of every great love story (SR)
STOP KISS Pygmalion Theatre Company, Rose Wagner Studio Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, 801-355-2787. Through Feb. 28. PygmalionProductions.org