Louis Fantasia, the current director of Shakespeare at the Huntington and a noted Shakespearean scholar, has directed a fast-paced version of Romeo and Juliet at the Met Theatre in Hollywood. The program notes say that he "intends a radical approach towards the material to present the play in a manner that Shakespeare wrote it." From this statement I was expecting something truly revolutionary, but what I got was a fairly ordinary rendering of the play.
It was nice to see an Elizabethan stage design (by Adam Blumenthal) and some very nice Gothic costumes (by Howard Schmitt). The music was a hodgepodge of other versions of Romeo and Juliet, including Zefferelli’s, West Side Story, and music from one of the ballets. What I really hadn’t seen before were dead characters getting up and walking off the stage, which was what Shakespeare’s actors had to do, as they performed in daylight.
The cast features actors of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Romeo (Frederick Hamel) is an actor/dancer from France. Friar Lawrence is Brit Tony Matzenbacker. Lord Capulet (Niall Padden) was born in Ireland and educated in England. Lord Montague (Paul De Sousa) was born in Zambia. Andreas Becket (Tybalt) is an opera singer from Germany. This ethnic mixture was interesting, as it reinforced the idea that Shakespeare is universal and universally admired, but it did lead to some foreign–sounding line readings, and had the actors occasionally struggling, which undermined the poetry. Director Fantasia has done a good job in the face of this challenge to make the language clear, if not always very deeply felt.
The acting on the whole was a disappointment. Romeo tended to over-romanticize his part. Juliet (Megan Goodchild) was too formal, and forgot that Juliet is a young, inexperienced girl; Ms. Goodchild’s Juliet was mature and rather passionless. Friar Lawrence was just dull and one-note (stern). Jill Holden, though, was quite good as the nurse, infusing her character with humor and caring. Mr. Becket as Tybalt was a terrific fencer and cut a dashing figure. Paul Benz was a serviceable Paris, Michael Naishtur was an amusing Peter, and Isabella Hoffman was a good Lady Capulet but could have made more interesting choices.
Romeo and Juliet plays at The Met Theatre until April 5.