You’ve got to love it when a theater takes a risk.
In its production of Romeo and Juliet: Love Knows No Age, which opened last weekend at the Randolph Road Theater in Silver Spring, Unexpected Stage has bet that flipping the age relationships in one of the greatest stories of all time will pay off. For the most part, it does.
This is an essentially intact version of Shakespeare’s tragedy: the feuding Capulets and Montagues are there, the balcony scene, the dueling deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, Romeo’s exile, the potion, the poison, and the climactic scene in the Capulets’ vault – all there. The only difference is that the young people are old, the parents are children . . . you get the idea.
Set in a retirement community (cleverly called Verona Village), the scenes take place on various floors of the main building, with an impressively functional elevator conveying the characters from one locale to another.
Much of it works extremely well. The principals are outstanding. Romeo (Elliott Bales) and Juliet (Clare Schoonover) are the elegant, impetuous, headstrong, doomed characters that the story requires. And their principal scene partners – Kecia Campbell as the nattering, protective Nurse; Ted Schneider as patient Friar Lawrence, endlessly explaining things; and Karen Fleming as Romeo’s devoted sidekick Benvolio – effectively move the story along; there’s never any doubt where we’re headed.
Some scenes are cleverly re-imagined. The balcony scene begins with Juliet in front of the TV after the masked ball (in this version, a 70th birthday party, with dancing). As she channel-surfs, Juliet exhales frustration that her new love is a hated Montague. When Romeo, listening in a darkened doorway, breaks in on her meditations, she throws a slipper at him. It actually works pretty well.
What doesn’t work? The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues. The play begins with a cartoonish fight scene, with septuagenarians brandishing dinner forks, followed by a round-up of weapons, including nunchucks, fireplace pokers, and all kinds of knives. It’s fun – I heard a joke in the audience about metal detectors – but we never really feel the menace of the feud that underlies the tragedy.
The reversed age (and power) relationships give new meanings to familiar words; some are pretty hard to take. In the scene where son Capulet insists that his mother Juliet marry Paris, unaware that she is already married to Romeo, he threatens to put his mother out of his house. It seems incredibly cruel. In the final scene, when he holds the dead Juliet in his arms and says “with my Mom my joys are buried,” the turnabout is just too abrupt. Josh Adams does his best with the role, but this particular age reversal might be too big a stretch.
On the whole, though, it’s a win. This generation-flipping production shows that love between people of a certain age can be impetuous, giddy, desperate, and – let’s face it – hot. When she arrives for her wedding to Romeo, stepping out of the elevator in a spectacular floor-length dress, Claire Schoonover’s backlit presence is amazing. No teenager could possibly pull this off.
And Elliott Bales as Romeo makes hilarious use of the same elevator as he tumbles out of it after his first night with Juliet, looking like a suit of clothes with a man attached to it, tossed down a laundry chute.
Also noteworthy is Justus Hammond as a buoyant, energetic Mercutio, who mocks Romeo unmercifully in his Queen Mab speech, illustrating his jibes with frank physicality. And Kim Curtis is sooo creepy as the Apothecary who slithers into Romeo’s field of vision, sells him the forbidden substance that will seal his doom, then slinks into the shadows.
Bottom line: most things work in this reimagined R&J; some don’t. Get beyond the things that don’t work; enjoy the ones that do, because they are really, really good.
By William Shakespeare; directed by Christopher Goodrich; co-produced by Christopher Goodrich and Rachel Stroud-Goodrich; set by Kristen Jepperson; costumes by Briana Manente; lighting by Peter Dowty; sound by Sean Doyle. At Randolph Road Theater, 4010 Randolph Road, Silver Spring, MD. July 16 – August 9. Thurs-Fri, 7:30 pm; Sat, 2 & 7:30 pm; Sun, 2 pm. Running time: 2 hr 30 min (including one 15-min intermission). Order tickets online or by phone at 800-838-3006.
Cast: Josh Adams (Capulet), Elliott Bales (Romeo), Kecia Campbell (Nurse), Kim Curtis (Tybalt), Karen Fleming (Benvolio), Tiffany Garfinkle (Montague), Justus Hammond (Mercutio/Prince), Ken Lechter (Paris), Ted Schneider (Friar Lawrence, Claire Schoonover (Juliet), Rachel Stroud-Goodrich (Lady Montague) and Dawn Thomas Reidy (Lady Capulet)