Saturday, July 14, 2012

ROMEO &*^%!!!!

You remember the big scene in Romeo and Juliet: Mercutio picks a fight with Tybalt.  Romeo tries to protect Mercutio, but instead gives Tybalt the opening Tybalt needs to kill Mercutio.  Minutes later, Romeo the conciliator, full of astonished bitterness and rage, kills Tybalt.

I've often said that I lose interest in R and J after the killing because all the cheerful high spirits are gone, and from here on it is downhill through a perfect storm of bad luck and bad decisions.  Thursday night at Ashland, I just wanted to yell out "kill em both!  Now!"    This was, in sum, an interesting R and J, but an unpleasant and distasteful rendering, bereft of its charm and of most of the poetry.  It was also by several furlongs the loudest rendering of R and J I've ever seen--indeed almost the loudest Shakespeare, saving only some movie scenes in the combat stories like Henry V or Coriolanus.

The Mercutio problem is central, both to presentation's virtues and to its limitations.  I suppose the conventional view is that Mercutio is a charmer: an antic wit, a versifier, a high-spirited boy who (in the word of my favorite teacher) "doesn't know he's not immortal"--doesn't know, that is, until he takes a poignard in his belly.

A dissenting view argues that he is really one of the villains of the piece: a sensualist and a cynic, however full of high spirits, capable of turning gold into base metals.  I've pretty much come round to that latter view, with the understanding that we can let him be part of the problem if at least we let him keep part of his charm.  "I like my lustiness," Mrs. Buce observed, "with nuance."  In Ashland's rendering, there wasn't a particle of nuance.  

I confess I am really not at all clear what is the point of this conception, though I do surmise it must have been intentional, a directorial choice.  Which is puzzling in itself because the director, Laird Williamson, is an old hand at Ashland directing who can take credit for some of the best things I've seen there over the years (Coriolanus, On the Razzle), and nothing (at least not up to now) really eccentric.

But I seem to have lost Williamson's thread in general this time, for he takes explicit public credit for another choice that seems to me hard to understand.  That is: he has  proudly and explicitly relocated the action from Shakespeare's "fair Verona" to something called "Alta Verona" in US-occupied Spanish California.   There's nothing particularly perverse about this transposition: a weakly governed  gaggle of family clans, full of impulsive and irritable young males, fits about as well in early California as it does in an Italian city-state.  But I don't see how it adds much either.  The program notes suggest some possibilities in the "colonial exploitation" theme, with young Paris cast as a sort of a Lieutenant Pinkerton, but that's pretty thin soup.   And as an added irony, I'd say the best performance of the evening came from Isabell Monk O'Connor in a weirdly comic homage to Hattie McDaniel.   Would they have had black servants in Alta Verona?  And does it matter?  And if so, why?

1 comment:

Scott said...

Besides, the "Alta Verona" thing was done over a year ago. IMO, the 1884 novel "Ramona" by Helen Hunt Jackson is a mashup that could be summarized as Romeo and Juliet in the Garden of Eden. The Garden, in this case, being Rancho Moreno, the quintessential Californio rancho of the 1860s-70s.