- Romeo and Juliet
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Though I was not in the mood for yet another production of Romeo and Juliet, from the opening moments of this remarkable production I was intrigued by director Barry Edelstein's exuberant approach and focus on legacy. Edelstein, the Artistic Director of the Old Globe Theatre, is also a producer, author, and educator, and he brought this holistic knowledge and experience to Romeo and Juliet, which he argues is, of all Shakespeare's plays, the most "encrusted with cultural associations, visual tropes, and a sense of overfamiliarity." He describes the play as having a "barnacled nature," carrying with it an agglomeration of fixed ideas that are difficult to dislodge. This production was designed to scrape off these "encrustaceans" and re-envision the play from a fresh perspective that speaks directly to our moment. Arguably, the best theatrical work always tries to accomplish this; however, connecting people to Shakespeare's work today while offering an innovative take on the famous plays is more complex than just setting a play in recent history.
Edelstein's vision was inspired by the central idea of legacy, reflecting on the kind of politics, culture, and climate older generations are bequeathing to younger generations. In the play's program, Edelstein explains that he was interested in examining two major themes in Romeo and Juliet: hatred, which "unmoors itself from any specific cause and metastasizes into a general darkness that corrodes all it touches," and inherited dogmatic beliefs, "the benighted ideas of previous generations [that] are uniquely able to inflict damage on their children." In most productions of Romeo and Juliet, these key foci are overshadowed by the sensational, romantic tale of the "star-crossed lovers," but Edelstein put these ideas front and center in this ingenious production, which told the story of a community riven by rampant enmity.
Edelstein was able to create this focus on the community through a unique, symbolic mise-en-scène, distinctive costuming, and an array of intertextual quotations and allusions, particularly in the production's music. The most salient aspect of this production's set was the large, square sandbox in the center of the stage. Edelstein meant for it to portray the playful and youthful spirit he sees as dominating the first half of the play, and it successfully did this. Indeed, the opening scuffle in the "street" [End Page 291]between the Capulet and Montague servants appeared less dangerous when the youths were barefoot in the sand, pulling their concealed swords from the sand as if they had been buried toys. The sandbox remained center stage through the entire production, serving as a frolicsome group space for the Capulets' party and an apt setting for Friar Laurence's garden. Mercutio's antic disposition also seemed apropos on the sand, which reminded the audience of youthful days of fun on the seashore and hearkened back to the 1960s Beach Partymovies, which were festooned with the singing of protagonists played by Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. Edelstein, clearly inspired by these films, made popular music an important component of this production. Of course, the sandbox was also a recognizable reference to Baz Luhrmann's memorable 1996 film William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, which sets the play in the fictional postmodern metropolis of "Verona Beach," with crucial scenes such as the slaying of Mercutio dramatically taking place on the beach itself. Nonetheless, one cannot escape the specter of Edward Albee's trenchant one-act play The Sandbox(1959) about the hypocrisy of the American Dream and its perversion of so-called "family values." Luhrmann's contemporary setting, evoking the problem of urban gang violence...