Can’t we all just get along?
Shakespeare asked the question more than four centuries ago in Romeo and Juliet.
He didn’t put it quite that eloquently, of course. He insisted on lots of iambic pentameter, and repetitious explication for the benefit of Globe Theatre patrons who might have missed something while they stepped out to use the public trench.
Anyway, we hied to Madison last weekend for the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s version of R & J, hoping things would turn out better this time for the star-crossed lovers. Perchance, those monstrous Montagues and crotchety Capulets might come to their senses and bury the cutlass before it’s too late.
The apothecary prevails.
Still, there’s much to like in director Ian Belknap’s re-telling of this classic tragedy, which runs through Nov. 17, 2019.
The artistic director of The Acting Company in New York brings a certain youthful exuberance to his debut at the Shakespeare Theatre. Belknap confides in the program notes that the Bard in general and Romeo and Juliet in particular were not his favorite things in high school.
Two decades later, he has come around. His fresh-faced leads–Juilliard grad Keshav Moodliar (also taking his first bow in Madison) and Miranda Rizzolo (Yale, London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, A Servant of Two Masters here last year) look like they are in high school.
Which is good. Rizzolo’s Juliet is playful, impetuous, flirtatious — like an adolescent. The play reminds us that Juliet is not even 14.
(Hot-blooded Romeo might be old enough to drive … a horse.)
Not even 14. Yet Juliet’s parents are pushing her to the altar. With the wrong guy, no less.
Her dad is a beast! (Nothing against actor Mark Elliot Wilson.)
Huzzah for the priest! (He tries his best; should have been a pharmacist. Matt Sullivan dons the frock.)
Comic relief is courtesy of Aedin Moloney, Juliet’s nursemaid. The Irish accent is authentic, and so is the slapstick.
Let’s not forget the swordplay. It’s fun to watch. Thanks to Fight Director Rick Sordelet, no actors or front-row patrons are harmed in the making of this production.
And give Shakespeare his due. He grasps the human condition like nobody else. Centuries later, we watch his plays because they are timeless and relevant.
By refusing to accept the rules of their foolish elders, Romeo and Juliet, as played by Moodliar and Rizzolo, remind me of Greta Thunberg, and the teens who have marched in Morristown and around the world demanding a safer, healthier, more loving society.
The shocking demise of Romeo and Juliet has failed miserably to cure our species of hatred.
But you’ve got to love how these young lovers give it their best shot.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey presents Romeo and Juliet, performances through Nov. 17, 2019. Tickets start at $49. On the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Ave., Madison, 973-845-6723.