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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

An Energetic 'Romeo and Juliet' at Spotlighters

“Two households, both alike in dignity/In fair Verona, where we lay our scene/From ancient grudge break to new mutiny/Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean./ From forth the fatal loins of these two foes/A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life/Whose misadventured piteous overthrows/Do with their death bury their parents' strife.”
Photo by Chris Aldridge
Arguably the world’s most famous love story, William Shakespeare’s classic, Romeo and Juliet, has been performed for centuries and along with Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays.  Written sometime between 1591 and 1595 during the Elizabethan era, it had been adapted numerous times for stage, film, musical theatre and opera.
Over the years, producers and directors have taken some liberties by modifying the original play, and in one case, Georg Benda in the 18th century, removed much of the action and gave it a happy ending.  The Spotlighters energetic production, directed by Lance Bankerd, did not veer from the original to the extent that Benda’s version did, but Mr. Bankerd, who is making his Spotlighters directorial debut, took a chance and inserted a wrinkle that will be discussed later.

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.



Anonymous said...

Your assessment of the use of genderbent casting in this production - that it's "problematic" and "unrealistic" - is at best an incomplete thought and at worst bigoted. I would appreciate it if you went into more detail as to why you think the marriage of two women and violence between different genders is problematic (particularly in a setting which is already taking historical liberties).

Steve Charing said...

I'd appreciate it if you would identify yourself before I provide further explanation.

Spotlighters Theatre said...

As the executive producer (Spotlighters Theatre) of Romeo & Juliet, I do find it interesting that you call the use of same gender households 'problematic'? Especially in today's heated political environment when many are struggling for Equal Marriage.

Maybe we could have done a better job of making sure the audience understood that the House of Capulet is all female, while the House of Montague is all male. And that there was NOTHING unusual about Capulet arranging a marriage of Juliet and the Gentlewoman, Paris. Or that Tybalt was known for HER prowess with the sword.

Our attempt was to set the play in an ancient Mediterranean setting, in a time when gender roles weren't as concrete as today.

There are many accounts of battles between all female and all males militia. Accounts of societies of women that only sought the companionship of a male for one purpose, and if the child borne was male, it was sent to be raised in the male community.

Steve Charing said...

I'm sorry but I cannot find an "executive producer" listed for this production. If you have a name, please say so; I am not going to debate an anonymouus entity.

Spotlighters Theatre said...

Sorry for the confusion, I thought that my post had my name attached. The executive producer is Fuzz Roark, me.
I just wanted to attempt to clarify that the society portrayed onstage is an early Mediterranean culture, where some households are female and other male. So that same gender unions would not be uncommon, much as we hope that become accepted in Maryland.
And that the romance between Romeo and Juliet pushes against the household traditions of the Capulets and Montagues.
The person that wrote the initial comment, is a cast member, and was hoping to get some understanding of why you found same gender households and the proposed marriage of gentlewoman Paris to Juliet "problematic" --
We didn't mean to create an issue. And the director and I have discussed putting in a note about the cultural acceptance of same gender households, still grappling with NOT beating the audience over the head with the concept.
Fuzz Roark, Managing Director, and Executive Producer

Steve Charing said...

First, your implication that I don’t support the concept of same-sex marriage and could be “bigoted” because I thought it was “problematic” in the play is laughable. As you know, I’ve been reporting on, advocating, donating, lobbying for and had been a key player in the fight for marriage equality in Maryland for over a decade. In fact, Republican Sen. Kittleman acknowledged that I, in part, helped him see the light and he eventually bucked his party by supporting marriage equality.

Largely as a result of my work in that cause, I was voted “LGBT Person of the Year” recently in a statewide poll that consisted of thousands of votes. The next time, I came in a close second out of all those nominated. Moreover, my husband and I are married, and I publicly state so in my profile on my blog. Thus, questioning my bona fides on LGBT rights in general and marriage equality in particular is rather odd to say the least.

Therefore, my quibble with the play’s use of characters had nothing to do with my attitudes on same-sex marriage but all to do with the lack of clarity on the subject expressed in the play. I agree with you that perhaps the production could have been clearer in its gender role presentation. Nonetheless, as I believed when I viewed the play, making Paris a female character added no value to an otherwise conventional interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. While you say there was nothing unusual for a forced marriage at the time (I concur on that point), I am pretty certain that arranging a same-sex marriage during the period is an outlier.

As a reviewer, I found that concept did not work because it is unrealistic in my opinion, which is my prerogative. I can’t envision a situation in that era whereby a family would force a daughter to marry another woman under the threat of disownment.

And other critics who viewed this production agreed. The reviewer representing Bad Oracle referred to that character switch as “nonsensical.”

Amanda Gunther of DC Metro Arts wrote, “Bankerd’s choice of casting Paris as a woman and then referring to her as a woman throughout feels out of place. It creates an unexplained layer of complication in Juliet’s rejection and adds political controversy that feels otherwise out of place.”

Have you contacted these other reviewers to dispute their observations?

As I said in the review that overall the production was good, largely on the strength of the acting, and I recommended it. Contacting a reviewer over a particular comment in an otherwise very positive review seems to me, well as Ms. Gunther would say, “out of place.”

Anonymous said...

Fellow critic weighing in here- (Amanda Gunther- dcmetro)

As I stated in my review- I did feel that the concept of Female Capulets and Male Montagues was unclear. That said- I think a director's note or some such in this place would not go amiss...and I don't think that having one would be "beating the audience over the head."

I think if you're going with that bold of a concept (and I say bold not because of the controversy that is being inspired or because of it being out of place for the era in which this play is set- but because it is largely different from how it is originally penned) then it needs to be outlaid clearly.

Even if you are worried that you're being too "in your face" about it with the audience, it's always better to err on the side of caution.

As far as saying that it goes against the heated topic of today's marriage equality laws...I feel like given the setting it does feel out of place. Not because there weren't large groups of women fighting women or men fighting men but mostly because when people (the general populous, not necessarily a scholar, dramaturg, historian, etc) think about the "ancient Mediterranean" (which I thought was Ancient Greece, and wrote thusly in my review) they think of male-male homosexuality and heterosexual couples more so than they do female-female homosexuality. That's not to say that this sort of thing didn't exist, but it I guess is less popularly recognized...

It's a concept that failed to translate- I shouldn't say failed- I should say did not translate as clearly as the director and creative team thought it would- and that is because (as was stated) it was purposely being held back to keep from "overloading" the audience with it.

This should not be taken as a comment on the performer's job as an actor. I noted in my review that while it seemed out of place to have a female playing Paris exist as a female (addressing her as she, etc) I laid that burden on the director and not the actor. Her performance was well done, and perhaps that's part of the misunderstanding here-- the criticism was intended for the director not the actor.

The production was well done, in my opinion, save for the complex layering (compliments of a vision that just needed to be pushed harder/further) that created the slight confusion or "problematic" issue of women with women and the rejection thereof.

Anonymous said...

I must say, I am not used to seeing this kind of discussion on the tail end of a theatrical review. While I have not seen the production, and now I most certainly will, it seems to have succeeded where so many pieces fail: opening up a discussion.