Thursday, July 31, 2008


LOL, I didn't want to write this review. Shakespeare Santa Cruz is so great, and they're nice, and their theater glen is wonderful and fragrant. But the Romeo & Juliet there is really bad, and after talking with famous Shakespeareans last night about my problems with the production after having put it off for a couple weeks, I realized it was more a problem with a horrible trend, and that needs writing about, so here we go.

The only thing good about the Shakespeare Santa Cruz production of Romeo & Juliet is Yvonne Woods. Her deliberate movements and commanding voice and presence somehow make Lady Capulet (!) the most interesting character in the play. It's too bad Shakespeare didn't write her a bigger part. The rest of the production was cluttered with bad costumes that didn't work; gypsy bits that didn't make any sense, do anything useful, or find a fit in the play; a singing, fortune-telling nurse who gets stuck in weird pantomimes with Friar Lawrence, and the least convincing Romeo I have ever seen.

But all that's not what I wanted to talk about. I think the production could have survived all of those faults were it not for two fatal errors. All the Shakespeareans I was with at Zynodoa last night agreed with rolling eyes.

Slow motion on stage is a very bad idea. If everyone on stage goes slo-mo when the lovers meet, the audience doesn't see the lovers because they're too busy watching Lady Capulet clap her hands very, verrry slowwwlly. It achieves precisely the opposite effect it was intended to. Slow-mo is a parlor trick that works splendidly in movies but has never ever worked on stage except for as a gag; when Broadway produces a Kung-Fu Panda show, watch for it. At San Diego's Old Globe, they did it, and in Santa Cruz they did it twice(!!): when the lovers meet and during their train wreck of a Mercutio/Tybalt death scene. And when Tybalt gets it, the Santa Cruz production makes its second fatal error. Usually, Romeo and Tybalt both get some of the audience's sympathy. After all, Tybalt doesn't want to die and Romeo doesn't want to kill him. The play goes to great lengths then to make sure Romeo doesn't deserve a death sentence. It was a crime of passion that happened to carry out what the Prince's law would have. But the audience is the jury, and if Romeo slits Tybalt's throat, we see cold calculation rather than hot rage so that when Romeo dies it seems a lot more like justice than it should, which is not at all.
If he kills Tybalt like he's some kind of Commando, no one will care when he dies; it's hard to feel bad for a predator. In San Diego, they even played a sound effect like "SHINNNKT!" when Romeo does the deed. A raw deal for the audience because they can't help but totally recall the murder when Romeo does himself.

Director Kim Rubinstein works at UC San Diego, so it's not too surprising that she's using the same faulty tricks that Seer pulled out at the Old Globe, but it is surprising that both directors think the gimmicks are a good idea.

I love Shakespeare Santa Cruz, though.

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