Modern romantics

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  July 8, 2008

Morris’s central couple (Noah Vinson and Maile Okamura on Saturday night) seem recessive, almost childlike, pulled apart by their elders, their friends, their obligations. In between the long duet scenes, they seem suspended in indecisive reveries. Morris draws attention away from their drama with busy crowds and intriguing asides. The nurse (the wonderful Lauren Grant) is not only young and sprightly, she has her own servant (Samuel Black), whom she allows a quick squeeze now and then. Her life, in other words, doesn’t revolve entirely around Juliet.

Morris has talked about the destructive power of authority in this story. The Prince of Verona (Joe Bowie) arrives to the most menacing music in the score. He sweeps in and out repeatedly, and the populace marches after him with stiff militaristic gestures. The Capulet parents (Megan Williams and Shawn Gannon) are lusty and crafty — eager to marry off Juliet and get on with their own pleasures. The senior Montagues (Teri Weksler and Guillermo Resto) wring their hands and flaunt their voluminous black robes.

At the same time, the younger gentry and the townspeople fraternize on an equal footing. Both Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, and Paris, her would-be fiancé, mingle freely with the hoi polloi. Paris even brings his raunchy girlfriends and drinking buddies to entertain on the day of the wedding. The Capulets may be rich, but Juliet’s nurse is serving drinks during the ballroom scene, as if the house didn’t have a big staff on hand to do that chore.

Romeo & Juliet has a lot of plot to get through in three hours, and a lot of music. Morris’s dances seemed repetitious and less interesting to me than the way he staged the story and the characters. Tybalt and Mercutio are played by women (Julie Worden and Amber Darragh), so the audience unavoidably reads them with the double entendre of travesti. Clockwork mime gestures often substitute for naturalistic acting.

Amber Darragh as the gallant Mercutio, who takes nothing seriously, not even his own death, gave a terrific performance, with a fast first-act solo of jumping and one-handed cartwheels. Romeo and Juliet’s duets were egalitarian side-by-side effusions, ecstatic circlings. She lifted him as he jumped straight up, in perfectly timed accord. By contrast, when Paris lifted her straight up in one of the ballroom dances, she went limp as a puppet.

Morris/Prokofiev’s dénouement seemed more artificial than everything else. Hoky, even. Juliet has taken the potion, and after the bedside divertissement, they go to wake her for her wedding. Finding her dead, they think, they flee the room. Romeo runs in through the window but can’t revive her; he’s about to stab himself when Friar Laurence (John Heginbotham) arrives like the Lilac Fairy. She’s dead, Romeo sobs. I don’t want to live. No! Go see for yourself. Juliet revives. (How could I avoid seeing the awakening of the Sleeping Beauty?) Friar Laurence sends them off, and after giving them a chance to get away, he rings a bell and brings back both families. He explains the triumph of true love and everyone falls into a tableau of reconciliation. After that, there’s an apotheosis for the lovers. The walls of the room are gone, and they’re dancing at last in a starry firmament.

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