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Those film adaptations have made the play difficult for many people to sit through—you can’t fast-forward it, or leave it on pause—but it may be partly the fault of how the play itself is read. But it is crowded at the same time with clevernesses, it keeps the odor of ink.” That ink is what the Australian director Baz Luhrmann tried to wipe away in his interesting, 1996 modernization of the tale, which dressed up the familiarities of the plot with opera-buffa staging, Bollywood jump cuts, and nervous, lovesick closeups.Looked at a certain way, “Romeo and Juliet” a movie, or structured like one: in a series of relatively swift and visually sensational sequences, two bodies are joined together and torn apart by the exciting forces of desire, animosity, and love. In short, Luhrmann used Shakespeare to serve his own style, which is fundamentally unliterary, despite all the talk.Although I’ve always viewed Juliet’s mother and her nurse (Jayne Houdyshell, doing her usual Margaret Rutherford-as-Miss Marple thing) as entirely separate entities, Rashad is free enough in her interpretation—in her love for the art of acting, a love that is not unlike romantic love—that I began to wonder if both characters didn’t live inside Juliet’s mind, as examples of the forms of womanhood she might experience if she chose not to risk the ultimate unknowability of passion.Juliet’s mother wants her to look for signs of love in the face of a dull potential suitor, Paris (played with self-effacing ardor by Justin Guarini), but why?We have to say, Orlando was looking pretty dreamy in his leather trousers, grey shirt and jumper combo.Add a shiny motorbike to the mix and we're literally having heart palpitations over 'ere. Dressed in a bright floral-print dress, which she teamed with a pair of navy trainers, the two-time Tony Award nominee was guaranteed to get noticed.
But this production, with its references to sources as disparate as Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, and Leonard Bernstein’s titanic 1957 musical “West Side Story,” Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 young-rebels-in-love film take, and Luhrmann’s jumpy jukebox iteration, is ultimately an essay about other productions.
So that she can find the comfortable respectability that Lady Capulet herself has settled for?
And, if Juliet rejects Romeo’s embrace, will she end up filling her heart with the business of other people’s lives, as her nurse does?
With her wide eyes, her fantastic sense of physical play, and her seemingly unbridled certainty that joy is waiting on the other side of this thrilling moment or the next, Rashad is the show’s de-facto auteur; we rely on her focus to distract us from the production’s sad air of real talent struggling against missed opportunity.
How to account for Leveaux’s tentativeness, his playing Shakespeare, his darting in and out of the staging, and some of his—no doubt Luhrmann-influenced—ideas when it comes to hyping up masculinity and, literally, revving up the action?
Bloom’s Romeo is a philosophical “bad boy,” with a mild contempt for squares.