Where for art thou—Black Rep?
By Ma’at Atkins
The St. Louis Black Repertory Company opened its 33rd season last Friday at the Grandel Square Theatre, in Midtown, with an urban spin of the Shakespearean tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet.”
Set in Verona, Italy (like the original play), the play is a by-the-numbers tale of the feuding Capulets and Montagues families and their respective teens’, Romeo and Juliet’s, torrid love for each other leading to a tragic end.
Directed by NEW York director Chris Anthony, the 1960s timed “Romeo and Juliet” have some solid performances especially from its main characters (Nic Few and Kevin Kline Award winner Sharisa Whatley), but their chemistry together as a couple seemed a bit awkward. Their relationship resembled more of a young teen having a school crush on a mature college football star.
Actor Nic Few plays "Romeo."
Of the big sized cast(18 total), supporting cast member Andrew Frye who played Juliet’s nurse was the most memorable (which is no surprise coming from this enormous talent) . Each scene she was in, her posturing and choices of mood from her character were refreshing and added much needed color to her Shakespearean dialogue. Also, the brief appearance of Linda Kennedy as a psychedelic drug “poison” pusher for Romeo(she also played Lady Capulet) , the envelope wasn’t pushed as much.
Also, why is the play’s place is still in Verona, Italy? Why not, Harlem? Or Chicago?
A scene from "Romeo and Juliet" (by Chris Anthony)
At times, ROMEO and JULIET seemed a bit uneven. The first act’s strong points were the updated 60s version of the two families and their squabbles as well as enjoyments (e.g. Having a cookout instead of a BALL and dancing to music of the times). In the second act, it was a bit stoic (beside the famous Balcony Scene with Few and Watley) and it was fully Shakespearean in tone and becoming rote.
Also, the actual secret marriage between Romeo and Juliet was not seen. It was hard to follow the play to figure out when she had gotten married to Romeo until the beginning of the second act when she took off her ring and gave it to her nurse.
The set, created by award winning set designer Jim Burwinkel, was to be noted. Its castle styled,two-story backdrop (and balcony of course) added to the Elizabethan times and the ever changing walls that the cast (who acted as stage hands as well) maneuvered throughout each scene (as though they were “multi-Vannas” on Wheel of Fortune) but it could have been nice if some 60s artwork or symbols could have helped in setting the times of the play.
Overall the concept of bringing Shakespeare into the turbulent Civil Rights era 1960s is an interesting one indeed, but in order for the twist to work, ALL liberties should have been made in the play. One major one is changing the Old Shakespearean language and use the language of the times, which in this case the 1960s.
The Black Rep presents.....ROMEO & JULIET