I Defy You Stars! - Match: Lit's ROMEO AND JULIET

Kristin Sgarro and Laurel Andersen as Romeo and Juliet (Photo courtesy of Lisa Kramer)
Romeo and Juliet is a deceptively simple play. Because the action is so clear, the plot so well known, the text so iconic, it's easy for companies to simply sit back and allow the Bard do the work.  But Match: Lit theatre found a new way into an old play that is truly worth the watching.

Directed by Phoebe Brooks, the play is immediately steeped in a timeless Italy, intimately staged in the round with red glitter littering the floor as audience members enter.  A fight ensues, expertly choreographed by Peter Hargarten, and more red sequins splatter over the floor at the audience's feet.

Enter the Chorus, played by Caterina Nonis, who with a sigh takes up broom and dustpan to clean up yet another bloody fight.  And as she rids the floor, as best she can, of the impossible, incarnadine glitter, she launches into Shakespeare's immortal lines...in Italian.

This ain't your mother's Verona.

Every element of this production worked together - from the subtle nods to classic doublet and hose with modern flairs in the costuming by Joshua Koehn, to the delightful dance party with live music assisted by Mia Canter, to smart and beautiful staging by the inventive Ms. Brooks.

In New York City, one expects that any Shakespearean actor will be of a certain quality to begin with, but such was the deep textual knowledge of this cast that they were able to fly through the Bard's words and retain clarity, intelligence and passion.

Artistic Director Kristin Sgarro shone as Romeo: bringing a heartfelt passion and goodness to the role, as well as a decisiveness rarely seen in that "young waverer."  As Juliet, Laurel Andersen shone with hope, even in the face of adversity.  Owen Grayson Schiller, doubling as Benvolio and Paris (as was also doubled in the Kraine production), along with Evelyn Dumont as Mercuzio, proved merry companions for young Romeo.  While Rudi Utter, Match: Lit's verse and text expert, also took on Lord Montague and Frate Lorenzo with humor and warmth.

On the Capulet side, Victoria M. Fragnito gave a thoughtful Lord Capulet: mining the frustrations of her character through half-forgotten lines in the text, that proved her Mt. Vesuvius at home.  Rita McCann played the heartfelt Angelica (that is, the Nurse), trading ridiculousness for true emotion.  Ty Baumann took on him Tebaldo (Tybald) with vigor, as well as Frate Giovanni (Friar John) - a role which is frequently cut but which, in this version, was such a much-needed absurd scene in the midst of so much tragedy that I'm only sorry he can't play it in every production!

Rounding out the cast, Nick Ritacco as the Prince was a truly grounding and powerful force, such that I was rather saddened that he had a comparatively small role - since I should have loved to see more of his quality.

Perhaps the strongest moment of the show came at the very end, as in this tragedy the ending should hit, when one by one everyone staggers in to see the dead bodies, met last of all with the Prince whose shoulder simply slump at the sight of yet more carnage.  Truths are told, grudges rescinded and then - with the Prologue - the Prince takes up a broom himself and begins cleaning up the bloody-sequin death, while they deliver the final "Never was there a story of more woe" speech, in weary, worn, practiced Italian.  Giving the sensation that this story, repeated time and time and time again, has taught us a lesson we still can't grasp.

If there is room for improvement, I would love for Match: Lit to increase their marketing and procure for themselves larger audiences.  Of the three Romeo and Juliets this Valentine's season, Match: Lit had one of the cleanest, most cohesive and imaginative productions - and one of the smaller audiences.

The other piece I would love to see this company explore is the use of silence.  Their text work is incredible, but there is room and time for more stretches of daunting silence and raw emotion to highlight the core of Shakespeare's works.

Now in its fourth season, Match: Lit is a Shakespearean force to be artistically reckoned with.  I'd love to see even more NYC Classical companies take a page from Match: Lit's playbook, and I will be eagerly following the individual members of the cast and crew to see their future work.  Those who were able to catch Romeo and Juliet received a rare treat.  Those who missed it, missed out.

Match: Lit Romeo and Juliet plays through February 17, 2019.


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