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A CurtainUp Review
Much Ado/Romeo & Juliet
David Lohrey
Scratching could not make it worse, an 'twere such a face as yours.
What's in a name? ---Juliet
The Pearl Theatre Company has done well this season with its revival of minor works by major playwrights such as Calderon and Euripides. Shortcomings in production have been more than compensated by the opportunity to see these lesser-known works. Daring play selections have made the Pearl a marvelous antidote to the tried and true. Next season, which has just been announced, should prove no exception.

Unfortunately, the Company decided to follow its recent revivals with a program of Shakespeare plays to be produced in repertory. I say unfortunately, because in the first place, New York has seen more than its share of Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing in recent years, both on film and stage. In the second place, this company, which has done so well with its modern translations of Calderon and Euripides, seems not at all equipped to handle the demands of Elizabethan English. While trying hard with mixed results may be good enough for an audience starved for the new and daring, familiarity more than breeds contempt when the achievement is merely pretty good and at times falls short even of that.

Robert Hock (Dogberry/Lord Capulet) is the only member of the company with the vocal skills required to pull off a sustained performance of professional standards. When he is on stage, one feels transported to Stratford. Ray Virta (Benedick/Paris), too, stands out. Joanne Camp, as Beatrice, appeared willfully unattractive, and spoke obnoxiously, yet as Lady Capulet, she was graceful. Scott Whitehurst (Don Pedro/Mercutio) has a marvelous vocal instrument and presents himself confidently and with vigor. He is a pleasure to watch. Not so, the rest of the Much Ado cast, who seemed to move as though attending a funeral. With the finest Shakespeare in North America available just a day's drive away in Stratford, Ontario, it is incredible that a New York theatre would venture a project of this sort without a competent cast. Directed by J. R. Sullivan, this production is bland and uninspired, a shockingly dismal affair from start to early finish (I walked out at the interval).

It must be said that the overall quality of the acting is considerably improved in Romeo and Juliet, under the able direction of Shepard Sobel, the Pearl's Artistic Director. Here at least there is energy, there is movement, there, finally, is life. I'm not so sure about the happy faces in the opening scene, but the pacing is so much improved. Christopher M. Rivera (Romeo) and Rachel Botchan (Juliet) never blast off as far as I'm concerned, but then again neither is an offense. Eric Sheffer Stevens (Benvolio) stands out, as does Christopher Moore (Tybalt).

The sets and costumes in both productions are of no help. The raised platforms at the extreme stage right and left have a way of creating a gulf at center stage that may offer metaphoric meaning to Romeo and Juliet, but adds nothing to Much Ado. The costume designers for both productions have made predictable, competent period costumes, but nothing about them stands out. Sobel's use of the stage light on a bare stage at the opening of Romeo and Juliet suggested a comment or a motif that was never explained nor further utilized. In fact, that is chiefly the problem with both of these productions. Neither production possesses a sense of artistic purpose. There is no vision.
Written by William Shakespear.
Directors: J. R. Sullivan (Much Ado), Shepard Sobel (Romeo & Juliet).

Cast: Edward Seamon, Dominic Cuskern, Celeste Ciulla, Robin Leslie Brown, Rachel Brown, Joanna Camp, Andy Prosky, Matt Mundy, Scott Whitehurst, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Evan Robertson, Ray Virta, Christopher Moore, Christopher M. Rivera, Andrew Firda, Robert Hock, John Wylie, James Doherty.
Choreographer: Alice Teirstein.
Set Design: Beowulf Boritt.
Costume Design: Devon Painter (Much) and Deborah Caney (R & J).
Lighting Design: Kenny Schutz.
Sound Design: Johnna Doty.
Running Time: 2 and 1/2hours, with one 15-minute intermission
The Pearl Theatre, 80 St. Mark's Place, New York (212) 598-9802.
04/04/2001 - 06/16/2002, Wed, Sat, Sun at 2pm; Tue, Wed at 7pm; Thu, Fri, Sat at 8pm.
Reviewed by David Lohrey based on performance of 4/20/02 and 4/21/02.

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