The Vortex tackles Romeo and Juliet
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, June 9, 2011
Shakespeare lovers rejoice: The Vortex Theatre’s Will Power! Summer Shakespeare Festival is back. Through Aug. 7, the community theater will teem with iambic pentameter, putting on the terribly tragic Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice and buffering all the heartbreak with a little slapstick in The Comedy of Errors.
Romeo and his Juliet open the festival with a postapocalyptic slant. The large, 26-member cast flounces around stage in tatters and tube tops, as well as a fair amount of smeared eyeliner. The staging is simple—slabs of painted plywood are fastened together to form unfinished cubist walls. Periodically projected onto them are videos, taken by a homeless apothecary who wanders around the periphery of the stage for nearly the entire show with his dilapidated camera, documenting the characters’ slow march toward suffering.
Stuck in the middle of all of this is sweet, easily seduced Juliet Capulet and wayward Romeo Montague. As the story goes, the two kids come from rival families but meet when Romeo sneaks into a Capulet party. They secretly marry the next day but are torn apart when Romeo is banished for killing Juliet’s cousin. Meanwhile, Juliet is betrothed to another man, and in her attempt to escape and join her love ... well, we all know it’s a tragedy, right?
The actors playing the two lovebirds must be close in age to the characters themselves. Willow Hanson, who plays Juliet, is either still in high school or has just graduated. She fits the part of the ingenue beautifully, all wide eyes and innocence. Stafford Douglas, our Romeo, can’t be much older, and he somehow embodies the presumed invincibility of a teenage boy. Watching such young actors take on these heavy, sex-charged roles makes the play feel all the more realistic, and kind of creepy. Love—or in this case, infatuation—may be great, but is sometimes fickle and foolish. It can also propel people to make massive mistakes.
Hanson and Douglas, regardless of age, have great potential. They’re intensely passionate in theirs roles, and they handle their love scenes with grace. The two convince the audience that they’re in love, so much so that you almost wonder if something’s sparked off-stage. In a more professional theatrical environment, their chemistry together would really pop.
Acting duties on the part of other cast members are decent. Doug Reynolds, who serves as a fiery and somewhat dastardly Mercutio, stands out as a talent. He’s got natural timing and charm, and I’d like to see more of him on Albuquerque’s stages. Likewise, Tabatha Shaun pulls out an impassioned female version of Tybalt. Her gymnastic works lend a lot to the well-choreographed fight scenes. Hakim Bellamy makes a compelling Friar Laurence, and Laira Morgan does well as Juliet’s nurse, although there are moments when her comic enthusiasm is grating.
The production is full of good ideas, but they aren’t executed all that well. Take, for instance, the sound of a heartbeat that thumps loudly in the theater every time Romeo and Juliet pass by each other unseen. It’s a beautiful concept, but the sound is so loud that it’s jarring, and much of the soundtrack meets the same fate. The use of video projections is clever, too, but they’re underutilized. The play starts with an intriguing video introduction, and then the screens stay quiet until near the end of the piece. The videos could be milked for so much more. Also, in a very strange turn, the cast doesn’t come out for a curtain call. There’s something about the way the lights abruptly turn on that undermines the whole play. It feels awkward and unintentional.
Some of the costumes don’t make sense, either. Postapocalyptic is one thing—and Romeo’s torn red tank top and baggy black jeans work with the whole street urchin thing. But Lady Capulet struts around stage in jeggings and a belly shirt, looking more like a trailer park meth addict than a lady trying to survive with the rest of the scrambling scraps of humanity. Then again, these things are open to interpretation.
The Vortex’s version of Romeo and Juliet isn’t fantastic, but it’s a sweet piece of community theater with heart, a measure of talent and a few young and shiny stars.
Romeo and Juliet
Runs through Aug. 7
Dates and times vary
The Vortex Theatre
2004 1/2 Central SE
Tickets: $15 at 247-8600 or vortexabq.org