I had a trusted colleague edit one of my scripts recently, and he did an incredible, insightful, generous job of helping me see the problems in the script, and better choices I can make. His “review” of my work was invaluable, and I’m really grateful to him for the insight and consideration he gave me in his comments.
I’m still trying to process his comments to make the changes to the script. And today, I stumbled across a review for a production of “Romeo & Juliet” at Playwrights Horizon Theare, by John Simon, a theatre critic I used to read. I’ve seen several shows at Playwrights Horizon, and have had wonderful and dreadful experiences watching their shows.
Having just raved about “The Hollow Crown” series on PBS, I read this review with a strange sense of relief that I wasn’t in this production. And a weird sense of relief that someone could write with such zinging bitterness about what he saw. I’m aware of the history of “outrage” this critic feels about the director from past productions, someone who is referred to as “one of the world’s worst directors.” But it did give me pause.
I have performed in productions that have received horrible reviews, desevedly or not, and I hated that exposure and helplessness. And I know some actors who won’t read reviews from critics. (At least they try and not read the reviews from critics.) I’ve also been in shows that were praised to the skies and I wondered what the critics were they looking at.
And I know that The Westchester Guardian isn’t The New York Times or Variety, and John Simon isn’t the Drama Critic for a wide audience like he used to be. But boy, is he cranky in this review. I guess I want to share it with you:
Romeo and Juliet
The faulty governing idea behind the production of “Romeo and Juliet” is that the Montagues are white and the Capulets black, and the whole thing predominantly modern but of no particular place, none of which the play can accommodate. This includes a Romeo who arrives on a motorcycle, and a Nurse who pushes around a bicycle she manifestly cannot ride. And the Prince here is black, sealing the illogic.
There are all kinds of meaningless fires all over the place, except in the performances, and the men keep jumping on one another, piggyback or prone, once even in a threesome. Condola Rashad’s Juliet speaks in a maddening singsong; Chuck Cooper’s Capulet bellows like a demented trombone; Christian Camargo’s Mercutio carries on like a flagrant homosexual; the death of Paris, like so very much else, has been cut; and instead of germane and fascinating swordplay, we get quick, prosaic stabs by switchblades.
The usual trouble, this, when one of the world’s worst directors, David Leveaux, whose Britishness must seem to some proof of quality, is in charge. Why he is repeatedly imported only to ruin everything he touches is beyond comprehension. Here again nonsense prevails. The set is a giant quasi-Renaissance mural that can split in three, the top mounting out of sight, the rest bisected, off to opposite sides. A large bell is omnipresent, displayed at various heights, but rung only one not particularly compelling time.
There is a rather measly masked ball, with animal masks worn flat on the top of heads, or missing altogether. There is Juliet’s bed, with her on it, raised sky-high and overhanging several scenes. There is a Lady Capulet with shaved head looking ridiculous. There is Jayne Houdyshell hamming it up as Nurse, and carrying on as if she were the central character. There is a Friar Lawrence, well-spoken by the good Brent Carver, but about whom there is nothing religious. There is the monochrome snarling Tybalt of Corey Hawkins. And there is the excellent Benvolio of Conrad Kemp, who outshines the merely acceptable Romeo of movie star Orlando Bloom.
And then there is the famous balcony, here a peculiar structure low enough for Romeo to chin himself on, looking like nothing on earth and having to double as Juliet’s bedroom. If after all this—and more—you still want to see this aberration, on your head let it be.