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LETTERS TO EDITOR
Much Ado/Romeo & Juliet
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.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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