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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Romeo and Juliet
Director David Kennedy, in collaboration with set designer Tobin Ost and costume designer Jennifer Moeller, has framed the story with minimalist trappings— sort of art moderne meets haute contemp-couture, but with swords. Forget 16th century Verona, Italy, this is a fashion parade more in touch with contemporary Verona, New Jersey. At that, it will presumably keep younger audiences attentive even as they see some of the supporting players occasionally slipping off the poetry-paved runway.
Fashion and fabric are everything as trend-setting young men strut and posture in chest-revealing shirts of turquoise, red and other flamboyant colors. Romeo's exposed white shirttails and blue vest and velveteen slacks are a dynamite look. Juliet's knockout wardrobe includes a billowy yellow frock and a scalloped white gown. The adult men in their After Six-ish formal attire look like a magazine fashion spread.
Not the least of the visual rewards is Ost's stunningly simple setting. It features a striking cobalt-blue piece of sky that hangs like a piece of modern art and serves as the main focus within the high crème-colored walls of the set. It is enhanced by the varying auras created by lighting designer Sarah Sidman. But does all this abstract minimalism have something to say about the story or even more about the Renaissance as the resurrection and re-envisioning of classical antiquity? I suspect it does to the artists of our time. The brawl that opens the play and the later ones instigated by the feuding Montague and Capulet families (the work of fight director Doug West) are splashed with the prerequisite amount of rough and tumble violence, although no blood is ever seen.
But what about those young lovers? In portraying Romeo, your typical self-impressed teenager who goes ga ga at every pretty face he encounters, Coughtry makes a convincing case for youthful suffering and angst. He does this expediently as we watch him quickly forgetting his latest crush on the fair Rosaline, especially after gazing on the likes of Juliet. There is much to admire in the way this ardent actor grapples with his passion without torturing the part's histrionics.
Although Brooksher, doesn't exactly appear to be a maiden suffering from the first bloom of love, she addresses the verse with respectful reverence, even as she sustains a contemporary lilt in her speech. The famed balcony scene (the balcony is rolled out on casters) is amusingly played. Brooksher has to climb a ladder to get to it. Both she and Coughtry bring a refreshing exuberance to their ardent encounter.
If our attention is generally riveted on the irrepressibly driven Romeo and Juliet, we are forced to turn our attention occasionally to the wiles and woes of the traditionally overwrought Mercutio, here more overwrought and obnoxious than ever in the guise of Shawn Fagan. Notwithstanding his spiked bleached hair, his body language and assorted tics, Fagan indicates Mercutio as more by-his-crotch-possessed than is usual, and in desperate need of medication as prescribed by a behavioral psychiatrist. That he survives alive as long as he does is a miracle.
David Manis assumes the role of the empathetic herbalist Friar Laurence with the becalmed air of someone intrigued with plotting. Tristan Colon is nasty in keeping with what we expect from Tybalt. I'm glad that Juliet's coarse and now grotesquely fat (heavily padded) Nurse (Jodie Lynne McClintock) doesn't fall prey to embellishing all her lengthy and irritating chatter with mugging. I'm sorry that her obesity is made such an object of amusement. As is often the case, Paris, as played by the smartly groomed and attractive John Barker, is far too likeable a spurned suitor to have us believe that the romantically inclined Juliet would so easily toss this comely swain aside.
Kennedy has taken a visually bold and exciting stance with this eternal plight of young lovers caught in the conflicts of their elders. That this production brings a vibrant jolt to what has become so familiar is commendable.
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