A Stylish Romeo & Juliet, All Grown Up, at Intiman’s Summer Festival
[This review is based on the final preview performance of the production, which Stefan was invited to review by Intiman's PR--ed.]
“Not another production of Romeo and Juliet!” This is the dominant response from a random sampling of potential theatre-goers. But Intiman’s production (in repertory through August 26; tickets: $30) belies the notion that this is just another Romeo and Juliet. It is strongest on the design side, but there are some real standout performances here as well. All together it makes for a surprisingly fresh production.
The well-known story of star-crossed lovers gets excellent treatment by a fine cast, but three or four performances among the actors deserve special attention.
Michael Place is as entertaining a Mercutio as one could hope for with a thoroughly engrossing Queen Mab speech. Shawn Law does a remarkable job selling and differentiating the dangerous Tybalt and hopeless, and rather sketchy, Paris.
But the real standouts include Timothy McCuen Piggee as Lord Capulet, Allen Fitzpatrick as Friar Lawrence (and others), and Quinn Franzen as Romeo. With Piggee and Fitzpatrick we sit up and take notice the moment they open their mouths. Their mastery of the language is riveting and they command every moment of their respective stage times.
Franzen is not far behind these two and his scenes with Fitzpatrick are highlights of the show (full disclosure: I’ve known Franzen for a few years and trained alongside him at Shakespeare & Co.). Where he really shines, however, are in his soliloquies. It is the difference between Romeo’s solilioquies and those of Juliet that mark the crux of this production.
Franzen’s soliloquies are intimate conversations with the audience. He speaks to us and we nearly answer. He joins us in the house and we feel like he’s one of us and that we belong to him. In contrast when Juliet (Fawn Ledesma) speaks her soliloquies she feels distant and self-absorbed, and this works tremendously well by establishing a difference in maturity between the lovers.
Audiences will be amused by the playfulness that highlights Juliet’s childishness and naïveté, which occasionally seems out of place, as when she plays a cat with cat’s cradle through a soliloquy. That childishness drains away however as she marries, suffers her vicissitudes, and suddenly grows up.
Piggee paralyzes the audience with the intensity of Lord Capulet’s decree that Juliet should marry Paris or be cut off from her family. It is all the more shocking to see Juliet rise out of her childishness and weeping to stand up to this assault but her next soliloquy proves that the change is permanent. As she prepares to fake her death Juliet speaks and finally connects with the audience. The production, which has belonged to Franzen’s Romeo, becomes Juliet’s coming-of-age story.
As for those strong design elements, Deb Trout’s costumes and Jennifer Zeyl’s set are nicely unified in their evocation of a slightly Latin version of modern urbanity, but the costumes are the take-away. Whites and beiges dominate both, with white t-shirts, shorts, sneakers, and white cotton dresses dominating the wardrobe. Concrete slabs, barbed-wire topped chain link fences, and the old-style solid security gates give the action more than just the expected levels and reveals.
Looking more closely we notice that the wall is studded with those tall, narrow prayer candles one finds in every bodega. The chain-link fence is woven through with photos of the feuding families’ victims. These memorials, famously resonant of 9/11, stand opposite one another stage left and right—but wait, there’s more! Those same images appear in the costumes, painted on in ornate frames all over shirts and dresses. They are the emotional scars these people carry with them new images are pinned on with each death, and Romeo and Juliet are almost alone in carrying none.
Between the white costumes of the mourning families and the black costumes of the friars with their dove icons and red skull caps this show is so stylish it wants a gift shop full of clothes inspired by the show and fleshed out with pieces from Hedda Gabler. The Intiman’s new life in this summer season is off to a great start, but should theatre prove less than sufficiently lucrative they might consider recasting themselves as a fashion house.