Yes, tears, laughter and anger are all well and good, but not when they result from watching a botched production whose very essence derides Shakespeare's legacy. The Guthrie's recent performances of Romeo and Juliet, infused with unnecessarily crass humor and contemporary elements, have certainly gotten audiences laughing; but remember, Romeo and Juliet was intended to be a tragedy.
It was as if director Ethan McSweeny couldn't decide which era he wanted his production to mirror. The Capulet and Montague boys were dressed in fashions seemingly inspired by both Christmas elves and hobos, while the rest of the cast paraded around in tall boots and linen suits reminiscent of an African safari, circa 1940. Combined with some authentic Monk apparel and a completely leather-clad Mercutio, the costumes seemed a mismatched jumble of styles from different centuries.
Wardrobe wasn't the only aspect of the production that seemed out of place. Serving as the backdrop for the famous tragedy, the Guthrie's mainstage set was covered by a gargantuan structure of scaffolding and walkways, with props and furniture scattered throughout. Incongruously centered in the structure was Juliet's bedroom, a Gothic-looking edifice with a movable floor (placed at different heights, the platform represented Juliet's bed as well as her tomb).
A dizzying maze of ladders, staircases and ramps, the set was a confusing hub for the actors' interactions. Each of the levels in the scaffolding seemed to represent different places at different times, and the actors used them inconsistently, seeming to forget which areas represented what locations. Whether or not the variable usage of the set was intended, it presented an immovable distraction for the audience.
Aside from highly laudable performances from Stephen Pelinski (Capulet), Stephen Yoakam (Chorus/Escalus/The Prince), Karl Kenzler (Mercutio) and Richard S. Iglewski (Friar Lawrence), the acting in the production was rather mediocre. Both Patch Darragh (Romeo) and Christine Marie Brown (Juliet) spouted off their lines with little regard to the delicacy and significance of their delivery, while the Montague and Capulet boys had relatively no stage presence. Those without speaking parts seemed inserted into scenes for the sole purpose of taking up space.
While the actors' performances improved (somewhat) in the play's second half, the effort was too little, too late. Though it had the potential to be an extremely innovative production, Romeo and Juliet fell almost laughably short of its goal.
Essentially, the performance was one too overpowered by clutter and haste. It was as though the production crew behind Romeo and Juliet wanted to create something so unique and contemporary that they mislaid the most important concept of the play. Romeo and Juliet is a love story - a tragic one, meant to elicit specific, dramatic emotions. With no chemistry or personality visible within its two title characters, Romeo and Juliet will fail. The Guthrie's production is no exception.