Young artists' perspectives transform ancient tales - Romeo & Juliet
Two households, both alike in dignity - Romeo & Juliet may be the most known theatre out there, with endless parodies, retellings, and interpretations. From West Side Story to Gnomeo & Juliet, even audiences who don't regularly consume Shakespeare know this one. And yet, Voices Found Repertory brings innovative ideas to their take on the star-crossed classic.
Featuring left to right Amber Weissert and Max Pink. All photos are courtesy of Alexis Furseth.
The set by Michael Cienfuegos-Baca is simple, and so effective. The baby blues throughout allude to innocence. The stage is left with minimal adornments. This makes space for the text and characters to come to life in a timeless setting. All the while, some small details keep audiences grounded in the present day. Subtle paint effects create depth that fools the eye even in the intimate space of Interchange Theater Co-Op. His design is a masterclass in "less is more".
Phillip Steenbekkers navigates his first directing experience with confidence. His take on the text does lean away from the beloved dirty jokes throughout the play, but humor is nevertheless apparent throughout, even as the story takes its inevitable turn towards heavy subject matter. The role of the servant Peter (Hannah Kubiak) in scenes throughout gives audiences a delightfully bumbling friend in every scene. While some choices lend themselves to anachronisms - swords feel out of place in a world with red Solo cups and Polaroids - the heart of the tale is never lost in the name of a unique concept, a challenge which Shakespeare directors have faced through the ages.
Featuring left to right Brody Drews and Josh Decker.
Josh Decker's Mercutio is everything and more. Costume designer Maria Beilke has fitted the actor in torn jeans and a leather blazer, bringing a moody twist to the rambunctious caricature. Meanwhile, Decker performs with remarkable gusto and detail. He paints the story with such physicality that even those who have never heard the text are sure to comprehend his delivery. Decker subverts expectation while simultaneously maintaining the charm for which the role is known.
In Voices Found Repertory (and, going way back, original Shakespeare) fashion, roles are frequently flipped and reassigned against gender tradition. Faith Klick's performance as the Prince is a surprising standout. A role which often sits above the struggles of the "common man" is, through her, empathized to the traumas experienced by the Montagues and Capulets. Her restraint is not of nobility, but of deliberate choice, in spite of the hurt she experiences at the loss of her own fellow kinsmen. Through her lens, we are better able to see the depth of harm this conflict has caused throughout the city.
Juliet (Amber Weissert) is played as the text describes her - as a temperamental preteen. At times, the nuance of the adult problems she faces are lost in her youthful reactions - we never reach that sobering moment of growing up all too soon - however, it is just as well that she remain childlike throughout. With Weissert's portrayal of naiveté comes much light and life throughout the play. At the same time, Max Pink's Romeo is played with a brooding maturity. His performance feels of age. This gives a plethora of shades and highlights to his performance - it also keeps him from feeling like a child in a world not yet his. Both Pink's and Weissert's performances are strong, but the direction of each does not seem to be on the same page.
Featuring left to right Liv Mauseth and Max Pink.
Ages are approximate throughout this production. Liv Mauseth portrays a most surprising Nurse. They are younger than Lady Capulet, which is a stark contrast from the old maid stereotype often at play in the role. Mauseth's interpretation is instead a near-peer - perhaps they were once employed as the teen sitter for a younger Juliet and stayed as she grew - and the dynamic is transformed. There is a fiesty energy that comes from a person who was handed a tumultuous society by generations before them, and now is left to pick up the pieces and make the best of it. Mauseth's Nurse has an innate protectiveness over Juliet, as though they too were hurt by the world and wish to shield Juliet from the same. The take is fresh.
Steenbekkers' Romeo & Juliet takes bold strides at new ideas within the old text. Even when there are moments that don't align, the production is refreshing. For a show that audiences know all too well, it is immensely better to take a risk and create something new than to rehash old interpretations. The story is fun, funny, and fundamentally important. Performances run through May 28th.