Written by William Shakespeare – Directed by Shira Dubrovner
“What keeps the star-crossed lovers apart is hate, what destroys them is love. Love and an irrational, youthful dead long rush towards doom.”
“Romeo and Juliet” is not just a play about love, even though to many it might seem like the epitome of it. It is just as much a play about hate, about light and dark and inescapable fate and how the world in all it’s ugliness can conspire to destroy what is beautiful and pure. What keeps the star crossed lovers apart is hate, what destroys them is love. Love and an irrational, youthfu,l dead-long rush towards doom.
LtoR Mike Bingaman, Kyle deCamp. Photo by DougEngalla.
What The Group Rep cleverly does in this particular interpretation of the Bard’s most iconic and most produced play is to add something altogether absent from Shakespeare, a subplot. To further darken the darkness that follows the story, they have chosen to set the story in 1930s Berlin and contrast the tragedy of the dueling families with the slow, slow and steady overcoming of the German world with the poison of the Third Reich. Like turning up the heat on a pot to boil a frog alive, the creeping of evil to becoming normal is a stunning backdrop to such light and incandescent love. Juliet is a Jew and Romeo a Nazi in a world where they once might have even been friends and now could never be.
LtoR Mark Atha, Mike Bingaman. Photo By Doug Engalla.
I see the parallels in our current world of political polarization and total lack of empathy toward those who oppose our beliefs. It gives the play an altogether stranger beat of rising danger. The families’ depth of loathing only increases as the play progresses and the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio seem almost a sideline to the gathering storm, the divisions and the horrors to come. As an audience we have the benefit of intermittent historical projections of the terrors befalling Berlin on a screen on stage, the cast play out their own stories seemingly oblivious, apart from the steady addition of swastikas, yellow star of David patches and eventually the entire cast divided by SS uniform and the striped pajamas of the concentration camp. It’s a very effective visual and one that haunts as much as the sorry end for the lovers.
The performances are excellent. Juliet is bright and sweet, Romeo rakish and charming. Amongst the anguish of the setting they both still hold true to their traditional form…which is important and makes what surrounds them both work all the more realistically. There are slight tweaks to their world to fully imbed us in this time and place, but it doesn’t impede the play at all.
It’s a telling journey, both of Romeo and Juliet and our truly horrific and far more recent history. Perhaps it’s worth remembering that there is something worse than star crossed love and that humans are still only ever a few steps away from slipping into fear based loathing and actions impossible to return from.
“A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
I highly recommend “Rome and Juliet” at the Group Rep. It’s dark and brooding and full on tragic Shakespeare…bravo.
The cast features the talents of Ashkhan Aref, Mark Atha, Emily Barnett, Mike Bingaman, Patrick Burke, Cheryl Crosland, Julie Davis, Kyle deCamp, Rebecca Driscoll, Grant Gunderson, Doug Haverty, Heston Horwin, Belinda Howell, Janee Hull, Sophie Lamzik, Will Maizel, Kaylena Mann, Joseph Marcelo, Skip Pipo, Sina Pooresmaeil, Bennett Saltzman, Savannah Schoenecker, Kristin Towers-Rowles and Chris Winfield.
Design and production
J.Kent Inasy (Lighting Design), Cheryl Crosland (Costume Design), Steve Shaw (Sound Design), Cylan Brown (Fight Choreography), Rebecca Driscoll (Assistant Director), Bennett Saltzman (Stage Manager), John Ledley (Board Operator), Marjorie “MJ” Scott (Costume Assistant), Doug Engalla (Photographer/Videographer), and Doug Haverty art & soul design (Graphic Design).
Running August 31 – October 14. Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 2PM. Talkbacks after Sunday matinees September 9 and September 23.
Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, 91601
Appropriate for ages 13+