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September 19, 2013 11:00 pm
Late in my performance of this Shakespearean evening on Broadway, as the story wound inevitably towards its twin-suicide conclusion, Orlando Bloom, as Romeo, turned to make an exit. Only by dint of an excellent reflex did he avoid banging his head on a giant bell suspended from above. The gasp in the audience was more palpable than anything that came before or after.
Though it would be unthinkable to wish harm on such a hard-working actor, for a second I secretly hoped that Bloom, who approaches his role with creamy rhapsody, had completed the collision. Maybe it would have shaken the remaining scenes of this production, staged by David Leveaux, to life. Leveaux is a highly intelligent director but for the life of me I couldn’t find much meaning in the objects that waft semi-symbolically throughout the performance. Nor did their lack of coherence succeed in suggesting a revelatory chaos in fair Verona.
As for the Capulets being black and the Montagues white, ethnic difference was used for this plot 56 years ago in West Side Story. The concept here neither adds to nor subtracts from the overall effect.
In addition to that damn bell, there are giant balloons that drift through the party scene, in which Romeo and Juliet – a pretty, sometimes appealing, fairly insubstantial Condola Rashad – first take each other’s erotic temperature. There is a giant, fresco-like backdrop that splits apart, separating a row of saintly figures. And there are spectacular bursts of fire, generating more heat than Bloom and Rashad, apart from a passionate first kiss, manage to do. More vroom-vroom was emitted by Bloom upon his entrance, in Daft Punkish helmet, astride a motorcycle.
I cannot complain about the panoply of acting styles here; uniformity of performance usually means monotony of performance. It is, in fact, the jolting difference between Rashad and her nurse, the ever-valuable Jayne Houdyshell, that invests their scenes with aliveness. The disparity between Rashad’s timidity and the power of Chuck Cooper, as Lord Capulet, also drives the performance.
Christian Camargo, so disturbingly good as the title character’s older brother on TV’s Dexter, brings a similar eerie intensity here to Mercutio. Just once before I die, I would like to watch this play without feeling despondent once this character is dispatched. My wait continues.
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