Friday, July 13, 2012

Odd, Ends and Gender with Bad Example

Costuming, Staging and Intimacy with JULIET AND ROMEO

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Romeo and Juliet is such a tired plot that it rarely gets produced. This is weird considering that there have been quite a few productions of Macbeth and Hamlet over the course of the past few years. Overexposure never slows THOSE productions. Why then is it the case that there have only been a couple of local productions of Romeo And Juliet over the course of the past ten years? 

 

Whatever the case, the play is cliche enough that it's still refreshing to see Bad Example switch gender roles on the play with Theresa Stefaniak and David Kaye's mutation Juliet and Romeo. A full, concise review of the show runs in the next print edition of the Shepherd-Express, but there are a few odds and ends that didn't quite make it into that review . . . 

 

First off--the costuming is really nice. Sandy Kay does a really interesting job of visualizing the way dress would change in an ancient patriarchal society. Men wear pleated kilt-like skirts. Women have their piton of either skirts or breaches--jeans, really. Shannon Tyburski plays Juliet with Romeo's lines and she's going it in a corset and black denim. . . stylistically very appealing. The contrast between the waring families is illustrated onstage in a contrast of reds and blues. It's fun costuming that I'm sure will be considered sexy by many different genders and preferences for many different reasons. 

 

It's interesting seeing this one just a little while after having seen Door Shakespeare's As You Like It. The casting for that production had women playing male roles as men. This can be a bit confusing as there is also a woman playing a woman pretending to be a man. It feels a little muddled. Here it's not muddled at all . . . and as often as I've seen women playing men in Shakespeare over the years, it's nice to see women playing male roles AS WOMEN. . . it's really refreshing, especially where it's Natasha Kaye playing the ultimate authority or Michelle White playing a enjoyably hot tempered Mercutio. 

 

The culture that Stefaniak and Kaye develop here is remarkably believable . . . kind of a weird parallel universe where men are subservient to women using some of the same gender stereotypes that made them the dominant gender historically. Men are used for manual labor and reproduction . Women are free to be romantic with whichever gender they please, which keeps the adaptation from becoming too predictable. 

 

Christopher Elst, who plays this production's Romeo as Juliet also did the fight choreography . . . and true to his previous work onstage, the choreography works quite well. Swords are more or less ruled out in favor of daggers, which makes a heck of a lot of sense on a stage as small as the Alchemist's. There's not a whole lot of space to move around in there, but Elst managed to make the use of the space in a way that makes it feel perhaps a bit bigger than it is when fights break out. True to the original script, the knives are refried to as swords throughout the play. It works, though. 

 

The intimacy of the stage is best enjoyed towards the front of the theatre. I ended up sitting on the aisle in front, which allowed me the opportunity to sit within kind of a close conversational distance from Tyburski as Juliet when she's sitting on the edge of the stage towards the end of the play. As the Juliet that is Romeo who has been banished, it's the last truly peaceful moment that the character has. Tyburski shows talent there . . . that close to an audience, even the slightest overreach in emotion is magnified a thousand times. Tyburski showed what felt like very genuine emotion throughout the play. 

 

Bad Example Productions' Juliet and Romeo runs July through 28th at the Alchemist Theatre. For ticket reservations, visit www.alchemisttheatre.com.  A full, concise review runs in the next Shepherd. 

 

 

 

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