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Make Love Not War

Seattle Rep Romeo and Juliet keeps chemical love weapons under wraps
By Prospero

Seattle 3/20/2003 | The opening of Seattle Rep's Romeo and Juliet could not have come at a less auspicious time. Sandwiched between the initial salvos of the Iraq war and the handing out of the Oscars, how could it hope to grab its audience's attention? I must admit to my own distraction at the Thursday performance, torn away from watching the news media's endless speculation about the success of Wednesday's attempted "decapitation strike."

Yet in the event, the performance harmonized well with my and the audience's mood. We may have been hoping for a brilliant blast of romantic love to lift us out of the fog of war. Instead, that fog itself found dramatic representation.

Back in the throes of a madder war, Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film version succeeded by making us all fall in love with its stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Girls went home dreaming of being Olivia and marrying Leonard - not of their fathers risking their lives in the Tet Offensive. In calmer times, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes set Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film version alight, seducing scores of girls into Leonardo idolatry and securing Luhrmann a buzz sufficient to fund the spectacular-spectacular exuberance of 2001's best picture (if, alas, not the Oscar winner), Moulin Rouge.

Sadly, the lightly experienced duo at the heart of the Rep's new production - James Ginty as Romeo, Cynthia Boorujy as Juliet - are not the stuff such dreams are made on. Director Sharon Ott seems to have opted for verisimilitude in this production: we get a couple of gawky adolescents just fooling around, not the grand passion beyond their years we've a right to expect. Their meeting is so ordinary that the most memorable part of the Capulets' ball is the violence with which Capulet prevents Tybalt from assaulting Romeo. The balcony scene spoils Romeo's best lines by turning them into goofy jokes.

I should have been warned by the in-your-face ad campaign that bore the slogan "Love Conquers Everything...Except Stab Wounds and Poisoning" above Romeo and Juliet's names scrawled on the wall in what looked like blood, separated by a sword. Or by the press release, which quotes Ott quoting the Kathleen Thompson screed contained in the program, "In the current world situation, it is impossible to look at Romeo and Juliet without comprehending that [it] is not primarily about love, [but] violence."

Last time I looked, the play seemed to be about passion above all - the meeting ground of violence and love, where sex is born, along with blood feuds and a few other things. Circumstances seem to have pushed Ott in another direction, however, away from love and towards all out war - which, as we've only just begun to remember, displays an awful tendency to become a miserable, long-drawn-out, almost bureaucratic business in the end, something that is about the farthest thing you can imagine from passion.

And so the Prince here is no prince, but a kind of dictator, with secret police thugs patrolling the town, their swords turning into pistols before the curtain falls. Ott cuts Montague and Capulet's last exchange, where they finally bury the hatchet by pledging to erect golden statues of each other's child, so as not to detract from the martial mood, I suppose.

Enlivening the Rep's production are outstanding performances from Laura Kenny as the Nurse and Ted D'Arms as Friar Laurence - these two characters here steal the show. Also deserving mention is Tom Story's manic, bedlamic Mercutio - kinetically entertaining, if a little over the top. Ralph Funicello's post-modern Palladian sets provided soaring spaces for the action to unfold, dark and portentous.

Copyright 2003 Dana Spradley, Publisher, for
First posted Wednesday March 26, 2003.

Romeo and Juliet plays through April 20, 2003.

For more information on this and other plays in the Seattle Repertory Theatre season, see their website.