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I cannot say that Michael Greif’s Central Park production of Romeo and Juliet is memorable – there is sagginess in the casting of the Nurse and Friar Laurence, and the staging occasionally creaks – but ’tis enough, ’twil serve. The Mercutio of Christopher Evan Welch dominates the evening, and after he died I kept hoping that the character would magically return, the way a Park egret, which during my performance had watched the first half from the trees and cawed during the street brawls, magically reappeared at the final curtain.
Welch’s exasperation at Romeo’s calf-love stupidity would not be out of place in a Ben Stiller movie. This Mercutio cannot believe that his mates are as clueless as they seem. Welch acquits himself decently of the Queen Mab speech, even though by pushing it into slapstick he makes us quite forget the fantastical content.
Welch frolics friskily in Mark Wendland’s water-park set. A boardwalk oval surrounds a shallow pool, in which sits a black bridge-like structure. The bridge breaks apart when conflict erupts, and serves quite nicely for Juliet’s balcony scenes. Romeo’s scaling of the metal bars calls to mind the fire escapes of this material’s most famous American adaptation, West Side Story, even as other characters sometimes struggle not to slip into the drink. The loud turning of the structure, especially early in the show, can muffle line readings.
Lauren Ambrose’s fiery-haired Juliet tilts toward the neurotic, as if she were warming up for Ophelia. But her ardour is splendid, and her porcelain skin looks eerily beautiful in the sepulchral scene. As Romeo, Oscar Isaac has rock-star hair and authentic charisma; he tends to emphasise his line readings with over-gesturing. But his final scene, like the production itself, is clear and effective.
If by September the traditionally comedy-leaning al fresco audiences have come to prefer the “quick bright things” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – which will be the Public Theatre’s second outdoor production – to Verona’s adolescents, it will not be because the tragedy got slighted.
Tel: +1 212 260 2400. Tickets are free.