Romeo and (y) Juliet(a)
Thats the setting for the latest incarnation of the tale of star-crossed lovers that has been done so many times in so many ways by so many people that when you see an ad for it, the natural reaction is Not again!! Especially annoying is when the producers try to get cutesy and change the setting, the actors, the gender, the ethnicity, even the genus, in an effort to make it stand out.
So how does Quantums effort fare? This one is different! First of all, when have you seen the balcony scene without a balcony? Not only that, when have five guys recited the love nothings to a blushing FIVE Juliets, who respond in chorus, (while one of them echoes the responses in Spanish?)
Spanish is splashed all over the production, and while its not the primary medium of communication, there is enough habla to allow the greenest immigrant access to the story. Everybody hablas, some better than others, and one gets the distinct feeling that this could be taking place in a street corner of Soto and Cesar Chavez. Except of course, no self-respecting dude would be caught dead wearing a white tux, over an apron (or else he would be caught dead).
Sound effects provide a definite mood, especially when the music is a danzon played with marimbas as the actors keep rhythm using the trashcans as drums. In spite of the skewed settings, the stanzas are reasonably close to the original, and the actors wisely refrain from attempting a British accent, sometimes reverting to the easier barrio Eubonics.
To say this production is surreal is an understatement. Its more of a fracprism, where the original is divided into dozens of pieces that seem to have been squeezed through a multi-layered prism, refracting a distant image of the original, but creating a whole new entity in the process.
Its a little like taking genuine prime rib and adding peaches over chunks of aged Asiago cheese, dipped in wine vinegar. Youre not sure what you get, but there are many who will love it.
Here, director Tanya Kane-Parry is experimenting with a style that takes a lot of guts to even attempt, let alone pull it off. What emerges from her imagination is part dream, part nightmare, halffantasy, half-wish, layered onto a tale that begins with hatred between two families and results in the ultimate end for the protagonists. Is Kane-Parry saying that the various ethnic rivalries parallel the Montagues and Capulets and if we are not careful we may end up like Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio, Tybalt and all the others? Or maybe this is a way of saying that the cultures, which have been so far apart before, have now found a way to unite, and the play is a metaphor for brotherly love? Maybe she just wants to knock your socks off with something wild and off-beat.
Whatever, you will not leave the theatre with a bland outlook. This will move you one way or another, and you will remember it for a long time. Credit a top cast for embracing the project unequivocally, and giving performances that shine. Naomi Azar, McKenna King, Natasha Norman, Andie Quezada and Chrissy Atkinson play the various female characters, each giving a singular effort. Chrissy reminds us of a very young Audrey Hepburn, and McKenna King has the earthy look of Kathleen Turner in her prime.
Kyle Knauf, Steve Mallory, Jose Ramos, Javier Ronceros, Jeremy Ronceros, and Paul Tifford Jr. play the various male characters. Ramos is charged with most Spanish recitations of the text, which he performs brilliantly, and Javier does inebriation better than any drunk around. Hes a bit wobbly on four inch spiked boots doing drag, but thats why they call it acting!
Paul Outlaws sound is almost a cast member on its own, making quantum contributions to the story.
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