Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions | Romeo and Juliet

masks

Comedy. Tragedy.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer:
PRELIMINARY CONFESSIONS

These preliminary confessions, or introductory narrative of earlier adventures which laid the foundation for my approach to theater criticism, has been deemed necessary to highlight, and for these main reasons:

1. To be out in front of that question — “How did a nice and easy-going fellow such as yourself—who has no theater background at all—get it in his mind to want to write criticism on the stage plays?” — A question which, if not somewhere plausibly resolved, could tinker with that degree of sympathy which is necessary in any case to a reviewer’s purpose.

2. As an awakening perhaps to the current cultural landscape. Take for instance: The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ final performance of The Greatest Show on Earth is this coming May (2017), a live-action showcase that has been apart of Americana for 147 years. It seems like every time I “pay attention” to the news I see a report pointing out how Americans are slowly succumbing to the techno-industrial beasts commonly known as digital and virtual enslavement “entertainment.”

3. As a way of creating some new interest in the theater. My own criticism aside: if one can get pass the pretentiousness and ticket prices of Broadway and its ilk, or support the local “smaller” theater boxes, one would see that the theater is an amazing place to socialize and that there is still quite a bit of creativity being used. Allegedly, Hollywood just had two record-breaking years back-to-back. And when the money comes that easy, it is hard to find originality…

[The above preliminary confessions will be answered in later installments. For now, we turn our attention to Romeo and Juliet.]

 

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Rosemary for remembrance

 

Title: Romeo and Juliet (1595)
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Time Period: Early to Middle Renaissance
Plot: An ongoing feud between the Montagues and Capulets has forced the Prince of Verona to issue a death sentence to the person of either family who instigates the next brawl. Young Romeo Montague and young Juliet Capulet secretly wed in the background of this age-old conflict between the two families.
Dope Line(s):
[Act 1, Sc. 2, Ln. 55]
ROMEO
Not mad, but bound more than a madman is,

[Act 2, Sc. 2, Ln. 66-68]
ROMEO
With love’s light wings did I o’erperch the walls,
For story limits cannot hold love out,
And what love can do, that dares love attempt.

[Act 4, Sc. 5, Ln. 46-48]
LADY CAPULET
But one, poor one, one poor and loving child,
But one thing to rejoice and solace in,
And cruel death hath catched if from my sight!

 

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That Old-Old-Old  Old School Balcony Game

 

What can I possibly say about Romeo and Juliet that hasn’t already been said? Not much, really. The work speaks for itself. Romeo and Juliet has been adapted—just film alone—more than 30 darn times for Christ’s sake! And somewhere north of 290 plays and 500 movies wouldn’t be in existence if it weren’t for William Shakespeare. He is to Stage and Film what the Notorious B.I.G. is to Hip-Hop and wall murals. The characters and language of Romeo and Juliet are all solid—but there are some contrivances though. I mean, four centuries ago a lot of the goings on of this play may have been the ish but now in the year 2017 anno Domini, someone’s got to take on the ungodly task of nitpicking the great bard’s work—just a wee bit. Seriously, how often does one run into someone who’s in a position of authority who can’t read? And then that same person turns to the next person walking by, who just so happens to figure into the plot, to read to him what is on the sheet of paper he’s holding? Be honest: that’s a little too convenient…

And that’s sort of why I chose R&J to kick off my monthly theater review series. Just about everybody on the planet has heard of it. And, personally, I wanted to refresh myself with the material. In middle school, my English textbook only had excerpts. It showed up later in high school in two forms: the cheesy VHS copy of some British theater company doing their rendition which I was forced to watch in English III—and the Aaliyah movie. That’s what we called Romeo Must Die in the hood when I was growing up: The Aaliyah Movie. Sad but true. But in our defense: it was her feature film debut, and that movie had banked its fortunes on Black people showing up at the box office. And so: that’s what we called it.

 

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Romeo Must Die (2000),Warner Bros. Pictures

 

Again, I have to pause to say that this story really is the Energizer Bunny. There won’t be anything this century written—my work included—that will come close to it. This thing is Teflon™. I guess that’s why Universal bought the rights to Rebecca Serle’s novel When You Were Mine which has now been green-lit to be a film titled Rosaline. Sony’s going in big also but with a 300-style version titled Verona. So yet another spin-off, reboot, remake, sequel, prequel, requel, whatever the f—! to obstruct the road for originality in Film. But, oddly enough, Shakespeare adapted Romeo and Julietguffaw!—from a really old-ass poem: The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562) so it all comes back around I guess…

 

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Verona

 

Shakespeare’s Verona. A lot like my New Orleans. Romantic but at the same time crime-ridden and shaped like a crescent—somewhat. It’s late in the summer (July?) and there’s an ongoing feud spilling over into the streets.

Between who?

Two families of great stock who absolutely loathe one another.

And how long has it been like that between them?

For those involved, they don’t care to remember… And they are the Capulets: Lord and Lady Capulet, Juliet, Tybalt, Greory, Sampson—and others; and they have beef with the Montagues: Lord and Lady Montague, Romeo, Benvolio—and their supporters. Prince Escalus wants this put to rest and issues the punishment of death to the next person who starts things up again…

And how could you not love the opening sequence of R&J. There’s great banter, great action, and, aided by prologue, you get a great sense of the world and the setting, a great deal of tension, an onslaught of characters (which I love!), and what we should be paying attention to as far as theme—ending meaningless quarrels with someone or groups of people.

 

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Rapier-fighting

 

Now I’d like to move things along and get to Juliet who at this point in my life I’m shifty about. I get that she’s thirteen, but boy oh boy, she’s smart one moment and then foolish the next (great writing!). Confession: I’m an aspiring screenwriter and I can admit that publicly. Now as much as a decent writer I like to think I am, I still haven’t gotten over the hump and on my way to writing episodes of television or making feature films. I just had to stop my review for a moment because there’s this one thing I’d like to highlight that runs rampant in my business (I still work in film). Something I see the so-called “pros” do all the f’ing time—and that’s having characters “arrive late.” I guess there must be some screenwriting book that every writer in the business treats as the Bible or it’s one of these goddamn screenwriting “rules” that these same screenwriters honor as the gospel—but I strongly disagree with this notion: having characters “arrive late” or having a scene begin “late.”

Here’s why: IRL if I were to show up late to a production meeting or just show up late in general to work, I could potentially lose my job. Because being late in real life makes adult human beings believe that I can’t be trusted or that I’m irresponsible—and punctuality is a key indicator. Now the weird thing in my biz—and maybe in all industries—is that no one will give me ish about it to my face. But when I suddenly find out why I can’t crew up on the next production, all I have to do is think back to the time I showed up to set twenty minutes late, phone call or not. It isn’t so much that I have a quarrel with scenes beginning “late”; I get that that’s necessary sometimes. But it’s the announcement of a character in a scene saying to another character that they’ve arrived “late.” One, it’s wasted dialogue; two: fire his or her ass. Or just don’t bring up the fact that the character is late at all and get down to business. Damn near every episode of television I watch or movie I go to see it has to have the same-old obligatory scene where a character says “You’re late.” to the person walking in late. It’s only brought up once and never mentioned again (anywhere!), and nothing ever comes of it because characters in movies (and television) don’t get reprimanded at work unless it’s in the third act of a Romantic Comedy. So moratorium on that nonsense in 2017, please!!

My suggestion: crib from Shakespeare. It isn’t like that isn’t a thing already. The simple fix to that problem is right there at the beginning of Scene 3, Act 1. Lady Capulet and the Nurse enter together into what I guess is Juliet’s part of the house, looking for her:

[LADY CAPULET: Nurse, where’s my daughter? Call her forth to me.]

And Juliet enters “late”—which, like I said, isn’t a bad thing in itself:

[JULIET: Madam, I am here. What is your will?]

Boom! Done! I get that screenwriters want to quickly establish tension in a scene but I think that the “You’re late” approach is the laziest way of going about it. Shakespeare does this magnificently—showcasing how one can be late and still get tension out of the scene. And not only is there tension off the bat in this scene, but he also makes room for his other characters (the Nurse) thus adding dimension to them and he lays down a good dramatic beat to build up to the main character’s entrance: Juliet.

And why couldn’t she have picked a better choice in men?

If we’re playing favorites, I’d have to say that my favorite character in this whole ordeal was Lord Capulet—and Juliet or the Friar would be my second. Lord Capulet too is aloof at times but the man makes a ton of sense. It’s weird reading this play again, especially post-Twilight Series (and its ilk) and now as an adult. (Teens in this generation have a weird fascination with death, am I right?) No father in his right damn mind living today would allow his daughter to hang out with a guy like Romeo. And I have to give him a few brownie points. He wears his heart on his sleeve—admirable—and is a bit brash, suave when needed. But he’s also long-winded and the type to flaunt money and status around (the Apothecary) which is a big #TINWIPA no-no. I have to whisper when I say this just in case there are some R&J diehards lurking about: ((whisper)) I think Romeo is a sociopath or a psychopath—or both. ((end whisper))

In looking at my notes for him I’ve written, “So he kills Tybalt, Paris who is his own homie’s cousin, and himself. And Lady Montague dies off stage over him being exiled. Then Juliet takes her own life, and his actions could possibly get Friar Lawrence, the Apothecary and Balthasar all whacked! Why do women swoon over him? Is this love?”

 

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Charnel House Climax

 

And that’s sort of the gist of what happens here. It’s the classic, tragic love story that’s been sampled more times than Isaac Hayes’s “Ike’s Mood”. Aside from the many passages foreshadowing Romeo and Juliet’s untimely demise (all amazing), it’s kind of the story of how Romeo makes a mess of things in Verona. He gets involved with his cross-town rival’s teenage daughter. They secretly get wed and fornicate behind everyone’s backs. He then gets deep-sixed to Mantua due to the resolve on Prince Escalus’s part, only to come back to Verona and poison himself, not before slaying another person. Uh, romantic? Okay…

All in all, I think Romeo and Juliet will stand the test of time—it’s that good. It’s a fairly easy story to follow, but you read this one for the language and metaphors… If yet another story could be spun out of this yarn, the Rogue One version of this would be what took place between Scenes 3 and 4 of Act 1. I’d pay hard-earned cash to see what one could come up with for how Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio got in with that crowd of maskers, torchbearers and drummers who end up performing at Lord Capulet’s party.

 

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

 

stage-chair

‘Til February…

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