Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Romeo and Juliet

This is the most deceptively simple Shakespeare work: it's perfect just as it is, and yet every director who tackles the play thinks that they have to do something cutting edge with it. Michael Greif can now add his name to that list; his new production for the New York Shakespeare Festival fails on nearly every level. It tries to be both ethereal and industrial--the set is a giant steel bridge atop a shallow lake--but ends up nothing but pretentious, and the revolving turntable stage by Mark Wendland is only a big, loud distraction. I can't imagine a more mismatched a miscast pair of star-crossed lovers than Oscar Isaac and Lauren Ambrose. The former is projects the attitude of a passive thumbsucker, while the latter plays the lovestruck heroine with a Lucia-like madness as early as the balcony scene. This attitude served her well as the play progressed--her Act One closing speech was terrific--but it didn't amount to much overall. Of the entire cast, only Camryn Manheim's Nurse was successful. Dressed in a skin-tight peasant frock and smoking cloves, she was as motherly as Mary and as womanly as Carmen, everything the character should be.

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