Thursday, 20 November 2014

Romeo and Juliet (2013)



As part of its 2013-14 season, the Curio Theatre in Philadelphia decided to put on a production of Romeo and Juliet.  Their theme for the season was 'gender', and in keeping with that they swapped several of the major roles to be women; including Romeo.

As you might expect, there was controversy about this.  I wouldn't be surprised if that was a desired outcome, frankly.  Good way to get the GLBT-friendly to turn out for your show, and to make sure people are talking about it.

The theatre also filmed one of their performances, and funded the editing and production of a DVD via Kickstarter.  Which is how I got a copy.

So first off, I need to acknowledge the issues of filming a theatrical performance, and how the negatively impact the DVD.  Because they do affect the viewing enjoyment, in my opinion.

The DVD was put together by filming a single performance.  They had multiple cameras, but inevitably they must sometimes use the best shot they got, rather than the best shot possible.  It's only once or twice that things actually swim out of focus, or anything really blatant like that, but we don't always have a great angle or lighting in a shot.

The sound is also problematic - more so than the visuals really.  Lines can sometimes be indistinct.  When you're already dealing with the need to parse Shakespearian English, that can be something of a burden.

Finally, the fact of the matter is that the actors are performing for the audience in the theatre with them, not the audience of the DVD, which creates a bit of a disconnect at times, and makes the acting itself come across as - if you'll forgive the use of the term given the context - stagy.

Other than these largely unavoidable issues, how is the show?  Well, it's a bare bones production of Romeo and Juliet.  Sets are near non-existent, and they've used modern day costuming.  Story-wise, you know what you're going to get.

Cast-wise, other than Romeo, Tybalt (who kills Mercutio) is also played by a woman, and Juliet's parents are merged into the single role of her mother.  I'd expected them to switch over more roles than that, to be honest.

The play limits its amendments for the cast changes to swapping over pronouns.  A charitable reading of this would be that it shows how little basis there is to our expectations and assumptions regarding gender.  If the narrative isn't impacted by the change, what does that mean about the gender structures with which we've all grown up?

A more cynical reading, of course, is that they were just courting controversy with the casting decision.

I'll choose to believe the more charitable interpretation, but ultimately, this is just the familiar tale with a very minor tweak in concept.  I don't feel it offered a different enough experience that I could recommend it.  Though a woman (especially if she were a lesbian) might feel different, since then the change would be much more personally significant to them.

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