The Bard Returns To At Westport: Hey, Romeo, Juliet. Wanna Hang?
The show: "Romeo and Juliet" at Westport Country Playhouse
What makes it special: Artistic director Mark Lamos, an accomplished Shakespearean director, returns for another take on this familiar tale at a theater which really hasn't produced much of the Bard in its long history.
What's it about?: Boy meets girl (a balcony is involved). Boy loses girl (exile issues). Boy and girl wind up dead, (Damn letter didn't arrive on time.)
And this production? The title characters are dead on arrival. Or at least, deadly, in one of the most lackluster interpretations I have seen in these roles, One could be charitable and call it a daring millennium-era take on these characters but that would be insulting to millennials. When James Cusati-Moyer's Romeo first connects with Nicole Rodenburg's Juliet, it's as if they just want to hang; not have their lives changed eternally. When the good Friar -- a wonderful Peter Francis James -- asks Romeo how Juliet is any different than his last crush Rosaline, the answer is not even close to convincing. When Juliet bids a farewell to the departing lover as he goes in exile, you sort of feel it's not the end of the world and the kid's gonna bounce back.
That's harsh: Really I don't want to be. This was a production I was so looking forward to because there were some serious talent involved. But shall I go on? There's no poetry in their speech (and I don't mean florid notes, but fully-realized, thought-out meaning that understands the grace in the music of the words. Juliet, always seen as a fiercely intelligent, wise-beyond-her-years dynamo who propels the action, is here bland and, for the first time in my experience, completely uninteresting. (And don't get me started on that wig. that looks like Mary Pickford was cast in "Steel Magnolias.")
You also know youre in trouble when you look at the characters in set designer Michael Yeargan's handsome al fresco backdrop with more interest than the three-dimensional characters on stage.
Can you say something positive? Did I mention Peter Francis James? Oh, yes, I did. Well, Matthew Richards created some lovely lighting tableaus. And Felicity Jones Latta's Nurse was solid.. J. Kenneth Campbell's Escalus had the requisite gravitas. And I liked Triney Sandoval as Lord Capulet and his command of language -- until his meltdown when Juliet refuses to marry Paris and he lost all sense of aristocracy, sounding like betrayed fishmonger. I kept waiting for Alison Cimmet's Lady Capulet to do some comic schtick. She certainly looked like she was on the verge of it and I, for one, at a certain point in the show, would have welcomed it.
Patrick Andrews's Mercutio knew enough to pour on the dazzle and energize each scene he was in. His gorgeous speeches were fitfully dynamic -- though the homoeroticism -- including enough codpiece and ass-grabbing with Romeo that would make the NFL blush -- were way over the top. (His hair coloring , too, was just this side of bizarre.)
In the end, there was no sense of tragic loss, of romantic destiny, even the deep ache of senseless rivalries and the futility of polarized power. In the end, it was just over.
Who will like it?: Perhaps some young folks might get some under-the-radar vibe that I missed and connect with the show. I hope so. I hope they loved it. I hope it inspires them to seek out more Shakespeare.
Who won't? Those who have seen other productions of the play that take your breath away. One of them was by Lamos at Hartford Stage in the '90s. And I steadfastly kept that show out of my mind and considered this one on its own merits. It's commendable to return to scripts to discover new depths of interpretation to the material and to the times. This just didn't connect with me on almost any level,
The basics: The production continues through Nov. 19. Running time is about 2 hours and 215 minutes,. including one intermission. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m.; Wednesday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 3 p.m. For more information, www.westportplayhouse.org and the boxoffice at 203-227-4177.