The story is, of course, about a pair of star-crossed lovers. Two teenagers pursue their love for each other despite the fact that their families have been at odds with each other for decades. The story combines sword fighting, disguise, misunderstanding, tragedy, humor all in the name of true love. This operatic piece will be in period inspired costumes and will include a circus road show. Ellen Stewart’s treatment includes new characters who are named “The Particulars”. Stewart weaves Shakespeare’s verse with her own and the entire piece is sung. The opera was originally performed in 1991 in workshop form at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, NY. Other workshops have been performed in Montevideo, Uruguay, and Spoleto, Italy.
By Ron Cohen
May 29, 2007
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It's hardly what Shakespeare wrote, but this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet by the grand doyenne of downtown theatre, La MaMa's Ellen Stewart, is a rousing good show. Of course, Shakespeare's tale of Verona's star-crossed lovers has long been fodder for opera composers, ballet choreographers, and moviemakers, and Stewart isn't shy about reshaping the play to her own vision, labeling the result "a dance opera."
The production is credited as being "written, directed, choreographed, and composed" by Stewart, although the program carries a welter of other creative credits, including "additional music composed by Michael Sirotta & Genji Ito and Heather Paauwe & Yukio Tsuji." Shakespeare's text is pared drastically — many signature lines are gone — and what remains is blended with Stewart's own poetic writing. The show is virtually sung-through, the music sounding very Elizabethan, occasionally tinged with rock. Arresting sounds — sometimes lush, sometimes intense — emerge from the three-piece band. While vocal quality is uneven, the singing is strong, deftly maneuvering through the score's eccentric rhythms.
The 26-person cast from the Great Jones Repertory Company — emphatically multiethnic in the La MaMa tradition — admirably combines discipline with enthusiasm. Noshir Dalal and Malaika Queano are affecting in the title roles. In a roster of good performances, Meredith Wright's passionate nurse, Juan Carlos Betancourt's lively Mercutio, Brian Glover's vaudeville-flavored servant Peter, and Sara Galassini's vibrant storyteller are among the notable ones.
The production, in colorful period costume, takes place in various sections of the capacious La MaMa Annex, and there are some striking episodes. The Capulets' masked ball is a standout, and Tybalt and Mercutio's swordplay on a narrow platform is gasp-inducing. Further heightening the spectacle quotient, Stewart adds a crew of street performers, including Salomé dancing for John the Baptist's head and a miniature version of Stravinksy's ballet Petrushka. Stewart also gives the often-overlooked Lady Montague — Romeo's mom — a death scene and, for good measure, gives the storyteller a Greek chorus-like trio to assist her.