The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1060  Wednesday, 17 April 2002

From:           Jimmy Jung <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 16 Apr 2002 17:22:26 -0400
Subject:        DC Romeo and Juliet (and a little about the Dunciad thread)

First, let me start by saying, I hate Romeo.  He's a sap.  The virtuous
and well-govern'd youth "accidentally" kills the wrong guy, not once but
twice (then himself for a third); gets his best friend killed as well;
and then there is his wishy-washy heart.  Rosaline's a lucky girl; her
cool indifference is the only rational thought in the play.

The Shakespeare Theater in DC has mounted an R&J and I went with high
hopes of being drawn into the romance and the passion.  As is usually
the case with the Shakespeare Theater, I walked away having seem some
very solid performances, but this time, the total effect was kind of

The set is given in a roughly finished wooden generic sort of
renaissance look that consists primarily of a central balcony.  As I
understand it, in an attempt to create an "open performance" space there
is little to no furniture (a bed, a casket).  As a result, the cast
spends an odd amount of time sitting on the floor.  The cast themselves
are in a preppy/renaissance hybrid.  The boys in jeans or cords, with
vaguely Shakespearian collars under layers of vests and jackets; the
very same vests and jackets my mom made me wear mid-70's.  The women
tend toward highly boned dresses.

For reasons that alluded my understanding, Claudia Robinson plays the
Nurse with a Jamaican accent.  Yet, she is perhaps the most interesting
thing on stage.  (In a post show discussion, she explained that the
Nurse's accent was something she "tried" during the audition and was
kept to highlight her separateness from all these Italians.) The Capulet
household in general is pretty interesting, with Mr. Capulet given with
less arrogance than is typical and more of a paternal confusion at the
unanticipated actions of his daughter and the subsequent tragedies
around him.  Mrs. Capulet is a young mother, lending some credibility to
the idea that the Verona girls are made already mothers at Juliet's age,
and one senses a sort of "Gilmore-girls" sort of bond between them,
before Dad drops the Paris-ultimatum.  (Plus she has this wild dress,
that couldn't have squeezed her any more, if it had been designed by the
people who make Crest.)  Jennifer Ikeda gives a Juliet both the passion
and strength to hazard everything for her love, but Romeo wasn't enough
to get around my personal misgivings about the character.

I think I have concluded that, in production, I don't consider Romeo and
Juliet play to be plumbed for its great depth of meaning.  Give me some
cool sword fights and some over the top passion, and that's all I can
hope for.  It's great entertainment, not great art.  I know the art is
there, but I think it is better revealed in the reading.  This is a
competent, but luke-warm production, but with Romeo and Juliet, it seems
that luke-warm is a glaring fault.


After that rather confused commentary, I'm sure my credibility has been
crushed, but now I am going to make my brief defense of Leo, Mel, and

In particular, with the roles of Hamlet and Romeo, there are those lines
and moments that we all know too well.  When the "light is breaking
through the yonder window", or the Prince is "to being and not to
being," my chest tightens with the familiarity, I'm yanked out of the
story.  It is a circumstance that is only magnified when a "classically
trained" actor, who knows "how to speak Shakespeare," takes on "The
Greatest Speeches in English Drama."  For my purposes, I quite happy,
even happier, to have a regular old movie actor deliver the lines with
the same passion he uses to lead the Scottish into battle or kiss his
love good-bye as he sinks into the North Atlantic.  Let's not forget
that Gibson and DiCaprio are accomplished actors.  They may not be
"Shakespearian" actors, but they have delivered the goods in any number
of performances.

With regard to the "New Dunciad" thread, I will say that I've done some
post-grad work, I is even gots me a English Degree; but I don't pretend
to know what is worthy of academic study or who is capable of academic
criticism.  I've always viewed academics like art; "it's anything you
can get away with."  It is a self-governing community, and if it decides
that "Shakespeare on Film" is a sham, then I'm sure we will hear about
it (or stop hearing about it).  I salute Mr. Weinstein's effort to
assure legitimacy in his field.

However, out here in the real world, in both our time and in
Shakespeare's, these were works of entertainment so I object to his
categorical description of them as mediocre or dreadful.  Leo is my
favorite Romeo, Mel is my favorite Hamlet (although I like the Branagh
version better).  I'm troubled by the idea that "Claire and Leo don't
know how to speak Shakespeare; consequently they don't know how to act
him."  Is Shakespeare so specialized (or sacred) that competent actors
can not perform him, or "regular" audiences can not enjoy him?
Certainly not for me or my groundling ilk.  Like Shakespeare's audience,
I also enjoy seeing these stories retold in new ways and new settings.
I got no problems with Baz stealing from him as he stole from
Holinshed.  I enjoyed "O" and "Ten things."  I would even recommend to
Mr. Weinstein "Romeo Must Die," with a big ole' bowl of popcorn (but
mostly for the fight scenes).

I am; however, happy to report a local production of Hamlet, where we
can be assured the language will not be sullied.  The Stanislavsky
Theater Studio is doing a 90 min, SILENT version of the play.  The Post
gives its review here:

Has anyone seem it?

Here's a pedestrian question for the chattering class.  Given that I'm
currently so down on Romeo and Juliet, which is the most romantic play.
I've been thinking "Midsummer's" but I'm currently leaning towards

My apologies for potentially ostracizing the large portion of this
audience that is academic, but I should not like the educators out there
to lose sight of the fact that Shakespeare is and was "pop;" that is
popular, an element of the entire culture, not just the universities,
that's why he is studied and why he is performed and why he is adapted,
copied, etc.

Lastly, I will say I wished a girl like Angela Chase lived on my street
and will not abide with anything that besmirches one of my favorite

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Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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