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O Romeo, Romeo:

The Capulets and Montagues have taken on the streets of Cambridge to play for us, once again, the most famous love story of all time. Indeed, the American Repertory Theatre on Brattle Street is proposing a fascinating and intriguing version of “Romeo and Juliet” through March 25.

In this modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic, the streets of Verona seem like a vague memory at best. Will’s ancient English is still part of the experience and transports the audience into long-forgotten centuries. “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” The rest is modern history.

The long stage of dark metal is set in the middle of the theater, bordered by rows of seats on either side. By “besieging” the scene, and without initially realizing it, spectators in fact contribute to the crushing ambience and become like an instrument in Destiny’s hands. As for the atmosphere, harpsichords and violas have been replaced by (loud!) rap and techno music. Finally, the unforgettable balcony is no longer made of stone but instead comes in the form of a long metal platform spreading above the public’s heads. The stage is set and the audience is quite intrigued.

On stage, Juliet (Annika Boras) wears black boots and “gothic” clothes, while Romeo (Mickey Solis) dresses in Matrix-like dark leather coats. Their friends and enemies wear similar outfits, mostly dark.

As the action starts, the production leaves no spectator indifferent. Indeed, Israeli director Gadi Roll does a fantastic job at taking us through street fights, dancing feasts, weddings and funerals. Actors and staff are perfectly synchronized and switch d‚cors in a heartbeat to make us fly from one scene to the next. The lighting effects are both subtle and sophisticated and always convey a perfect atmosphere. So does the music, although in a somewhat surreal way! Who would have thought that, one day, Shakespeare would rhyme with techno music?

As a note, we thought the scene of the ball hosted by the Capulets was really fascinating. Wearing black costumes, white scarves and red masks, 20 Capulets and Montagues dance in pairs in a room covered with red carpet and lit by bright candlesticks. The dance choreography, blending both ancient and modern movements, is particularly fancy and gives a great show of collective performance.

What about individual performances? In all honesty, Romeo and Juliet could have been more impressive. They lacked a certain depth and presence on stage. They were, however, supplemented by a number of very talented actors such as Karen MacDonald, Juliet’s nurse, and Che Ayenbe, Romeo’s friend who dies too soon.

In conclusion, we hope you will enjoy your 15 dollars worth (including student discount). Non-native English speakers will feel a bit lost at times by the old-fashioned language. And most attendees will definitely wish Romeo and Juliet had given a deeper meaning to the word “drama.” In any case, we trust the quality and sophistication of the production will leave none of you indifferent.

“For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

American Repertory Theatre
Loeb Drama Center, Harvard University
64 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Box Office: 617.547.8300
www.amrep.org

March 1, 2006
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