- Romeo and Juliet
The Alabama Shakespeare Festival is justly acclaimed for staging Shakespeare in contemporary costumes and settings, and their 2007–2008 season was no exception. Their Romeo and Juliet rocked. Set not in fair Verona but in Miami, 2008, the production, like the ethos of the city, was pulsating, hot-blooded, and electrifying. With a running time of only two hours and twenty-nine minutes, the ASF Romeo came very close to Shakespeare’s performance time of “two hours’ traffic of our stage.” Romeo has always been seen as a prototype of West Side Story, but directors Geoffrey Sherman and Diana Van Fossen innovatively turned things around. Their carefully crafted production transformed Romeo into Leonard Bernstein’s/Stephen Sondheim’s musical, which, fittingly, followed Romeo in the ASF summer 2008 season. In a West Side-inspired Romeo, knife fights and rumbles replaced rapiers as the Montagues and Capulets were cast as rival Miami street gangs. While Avery Clark’s Romeo and Adriana Gaviria’s Juliet did not speak with Hispanic accents, they nonetheless powerfully captured the passion and horror of a high-tech Miami of the mind.
As in West Side Story, contemporary music and sounds shaped the ASF Romeo. The production surrounded audiences with a synthesis of sights and hits of the club world. During the pre-show, a collection of recent rock music greeted audiences, including songs from Evanescence, Fall Out Boy, Linkin Park, Nickleback, and Matchbox Twenty. At the start of each of the two acts into which the directors divided the play, a maddening, pulsating score—“Climbatize” by The Prodigy from their Fat of the Land album— invaded the theatre, readying the audience for rumbles, drug deals, and police raids. At the Capulet ball in 1.5, swank party music included “Make Me Wonder” by Maroon 5. Reveling the night away, eight couples danced a very sexy and sleek rumba to “Apologize” by Timbaland, a song resonating with menace for an offending Romeo and an offensive Tybalt. When Romeo was first blinded by Juliet’s beauty, the dancing couples with their arms raised above their heads were caught in [End Page 184] a freeze frame suggesting the danger in the air and the ominous future of the lovers’ affair. Romantically, “Apologize” also applied to Romeo’s impetuosity, at least in Juliet’s eyes, when he wanted their lovers’ contract consummated on the spot.
Not simply star-gazing lovers, the ASF Romeo and Juliet were a pair of tech-savvy millenials communicating in a world of e-love and e-revenge. The lovers, like most of the other characters, were wired to iPods, Blackberries, etc. Sherman and Van Fossen creatively made technology part of the plot and design of Romeo. In hip-hop Miami, Romeo and Paris now have personal assistants, instead of servants. In fact, Paris’s PA, equipped with her Blackberry, never left his side. When Father Capulet arranged for a Thursday wedding for his daughter, Paris’s PA checked her Blackberry to see if he was free. In an especially humorous early scene, Romeo helped a baffled Peter read the guest list for the Capulet Ball from the servant’s Blackberry. Though morning birds signal a transition to Laurence’s cell, the impish padre wore ear plugs to hear the latest hits. Texting was also a fundamental activity in this Miami Romeo.
The set, however, evoked an Elizabethan stage facade even as it symbolized contemporary Miami.It was functional and symbolic at the same time. Reflecting the Art Deco architecture...