A story of more woe
Romeo and Juliet
Redfield Studio Theatre, Church Fine Arts Building, University of Nevada, Reno1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno, NV 89557
Literature’s most famous romance is a double-edged dagger. Its brand-name appeal will lure even the most casual theater fan away from CSI reruns, but coupled with that recognition is a set of preconceived high standards. In Nevada Repertory Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet, Dr. Jim Bernardi takes the reins of the classic, playing with convention for wildly uneven results.
The production is plagued by a slew of strange decisions. For one, it seems to exist outside of time. The older characters resemble mid-20th century aristocracy, but Romeo and his pals cat around in Elizabethan apparel—if they manufactured a line of Elizabethan apparel exclusively for Wal-Mart. Both concept and execution are distracting. For example, Romeo’s primary look consists of a T-shirt with swashbuckling sleeves of an entirely different material sewed on as an afterthought.
Adding to the head-scratching is a barrage of attention-span-insulting music cues, possibly culled from an iPod playlist labeled “grocery store.” It’s difficult to say what’s worse: the incongruity of the songs with the text or the fact that most of the songs are just inherently dreadful. If you found your daughter’s apparently lifeless body, would 3 Doors Down best capture the moment? To set the mood for fair Verona, how about Counting Crows half-assing their way through a Joni Mitchell cover?
The title roles, of course, bear the weight of centuries’ worth of reference and parody. As Romeo, Patrick Laffoon is facile with the poetry and earnest without being cloying. He is well-cast and admirably bears the heavy burden of familiarity and expectation. The conception of his counterpart is more troubling. Kara McNally has the ideal look for Juliet and the right delicate sweetness, but the characterization misses something. After meeting Romeo, Juliet should see the world anew with wide-eyed exuberance. She needs to be a fiery complement to his impetuous nature. As the play progresses, McNally gathers some steam, and she grasps the language well, but overall, she’s too restrained. The characterization may be symptomatic of a larger problem. As Mercutio, Brian Annis is capable of grabbing an audience by the lapels—or by the crotch. The trouble is that he doesn’t do it enough. There are a handful of roles in dramatic literature that give unrestricted license to bounce off the walls. This is one of them. By not cranking up the dial, someone here, whether it’s Annis or Bernardi, has missed an opportunity.
The biggest miss, however, may be the dynamic between Romeo and Friar Lawrence (Brad D. Martin). Textually, the Friar is the insane architect of the most harebrained scheme in all of English literature, and Romeo is just desperate enough to consider it. In this production, however, it’s as if Friar Lawrence turned to the religious life because there were layoffs at the accounting firm. Again, the problem isn’t necessarily acting. It’s that the characterization makes no sense.
To be fair, the production has a playful spirit that makes stretches of it fun to watch, and there are some genuine bright spots. The fight sequences are excellent, with some of the best stage combat ever to grace a local stage. As Juliet’s Nurse, Amanda Alvey makes the most of things, earning every laugh the text allows. As Lord Capulet, James Mardock is wonderfully fluent in Shakespearean dialogue. In fact, Mardock is so persuasive that he unwittingly underscores the rest of the show’s shortcomings. When Capulet flips out over Juliet’s disobedience, it’s hard not to be in his corner. Maybe she should have just married that other guy after all.