What if your only hate and your only love were the same person? Theatre Breaking Through Barriers toys with Shakespearean convention using just four actors to cover all the parts in “Romeo and Juliet.”
BY ELLEN WERNECKE
By the time Romeo meets Juliet in Theatre Breaking Through Barriers’ production, in seemingly the same way a million Romeos have met a million Juliets, they’ve already met before. Rather, the characters haven’t met before, but because TBTB’s production covers 41 roles in “Romeo and Juliet” using just four actors, they have met as Lady Capulet and Paris, and Romeo’s best lady is also his best friend Mercutio. It’s a novelty and a gimmick, but it bears out long enough to highlight some good performances and many entertaining ones.
The ensemble uses costumes and accents to set their characters apart from each other, populating the streets of Verona with cowboys, hipsters, b-boys and an old lady in a wheelchair with a pistol. (A decent Bill Murray and an eerily good Christopher Walken also turn up.) The Capulets are a genteel Southern family whose lives revolve around their belle (Emily Young), who they have matched to a nerdy suitor (Young as well). But all bets are off when she meets Romeo, played by Gregg Mozgala with an attractive fluidity to his emotional journey. All actors in the troupe -- besides Young and Mozgala, Nicholas Viselli plays Lord Capulet among others and George Ashiotis, the Friar among others -- are to be lauded for their versatility on stage, but Mozgala seems willing to give himself over to madness more so than others who perform the role. He climbs up towards Juliet with a palpable yearning, not content to stand below her balcony.
The consequence of this is that Mozgala’s other roles fade into the texture of the show, as do Young’s when she isn’t Juliet and Viselli’s overall. Ashiotis, on the other hand, balances two roles (the Friar and the Nurse) so deftly that it took the audience several minutes to realize when they held a conversation behind the column why neither of them were making an appearance downstage -- a rare moment of levity in the play’s back half.
In his program note, director Ike Schambelan explains that Shakespeare’s troupe contained as few as four actors in its early years, so it’s possible that the first performances of “Romeo and Juliet” were done under such a cast constraint (although in their fat years they had as many as nine actors for the repertory). It’s a clever constraint, but is it completely worth it other than as historical artifact? For its new insights into the classic work, and the puzzling out of the many roles included, it’s worth a second glance.
Now through April 6
At the Kirk Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street
For more information visit TBTB.org
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