It’s the season for star-crossed young lovers. William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is getting three new versions in the next month: one on screen with Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth; one Off Broadway with Elizabeth Olsen and Julian Cihi. First up, though, is director David Leveaux’s middling modern-dress Broadway revival starring Condola Rashad (A Trip to Bountiful) and Orlando Bloom.
Unfortunately, the biggest sparks on stage at the Richard Rodgers Theatre come from giant black fire-spouting tubes that move in and out of view. There is precious little chemistry between Rashad and Bloom, making the all-consuming passion that would undo both their noble families a matter more of conjecture and assertion than anything demonstrable. It’s a shame, because both are talented actors who aren’t daunted by the Bard’s poetry.
Bloom enters on a motorcycle, climbs graffiti-stained walls, and generally looks dashing in a white henley and jeans artfully ripped at the knee. He also looks far younger than his chronological age (36), more like one of those twentysomethings moonlighting in an ABC Family high school drama. But motorcycles and pull-ups on Juliet’s balcony are not enough to convey the impetuousness of youth, and too often Bloom falls back on shouting to mimic heightened emotion.
Rashad, meanwhile, is gifted with a remarkable inner glow. Her Juliet is radiant and thoughtful and almost studious — to a fault. One never senses what would make this dutiful daughter not only fall for the ultimate bad-boy for a Capulet heir, but be bold enough to defy her parents and run off with him.
The cast surrounding the two leads are a mixed bag. Standouts include Chuck Cooper, who tears into his lines as Lord Capulet, Christian Camargo, who makes Romeo’s clansman Mercutio an appropriately lewd jokester, and Jayne Houdyshell, fluttering about as Juliet’s loyal nurse. But Justin Guarini seems out of his depth as the Capulet-approved beau Paris, and Brent Carver’s Friar Laurence seems to get swallowed up in the scenery — and a hoodie that seems to be made of hemp. (This Laurence is apparently more of a New Age monk.)
While Leveaux and his design team create some striking stage tableaux, there doesn’t seem to be any dramatic sensibility behind the contemporary setting — or, surprisingly, the decision to cast actors of different races as the rival Capulets and Montagues. Yes, it’s easier to tell the two sides apart in the fight sequences, but any racial component to the two sides’ bitter enmity remains unexplored. It’s just another missed opportunity in this dutiful but rather dull production. C+