Romeo & Juliet: An Escapist Comedy
This play has already proven itself at the Hamilton Fringe and I can see why. Sure, Shakespearean tragedy done as absurdist comedy and gleeful about its historical anachronisms has been around since Tom Stoppard's mid-60s smash, "Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead". But where that play riffed on the ennui of contemporary continental theatre, "An Escapist Comedy" (pun on 'Escapist' fully intended) is for 21st century audiences who've grown up with YouTube mashups.
In this case, Shakespeare intercut with Woody Allen. Think pre-"Annie Hall" Woody Allen of "Bananas" and "Love and Death" with his interminable existential posturing and neurotic self-indulgence. If you're nostalgic for the '70s and grade 11 English class, "An Escapist Comedy" is where you need to be.
The play squeezes a lot out of its hour, thanks to the fact that Shakespeare has already done the heavy lifting and the actors are free to play rimshots off dramatic highlights we knew decades before we sat down with our pints.
"Romeo and Juliet" is a fatalistic play even for classic tragedy (remember how the stars are against Romeo from the get-go?), so the treadmill of Woody Allen mithering about being in thrall to a god who might not even be there is a more slyly profound metaphor than we might at first realize.
How well it works says a lot for the cast. One-liners that don't do much to set up the next one-liner mean there has to be a lot of attention paid to rhythm and timing and running around on stage.
"An Escapist Comedy" is done in Elizabethan costume, but there are no sets (an unexpected nod to authenticity since that's how Shakespeare was done at the Globe under her and his majesties Elizabeth and James.) Good acting creates its setting and the players earned their money.
Their few props were effective. For example, at one point Romeo and Juliet struggled with a length of rope. The episode balanced anxiety and grace and humour and athletics so effectively that I couldn't tell if it was a glitch rescued brilliantly by impov, or if the it was slapstick choreography so relaxed and assured it seemed improvised.
If it was the former, sorry: only us opening-nighters got it. If it was the latter, enjoy.
Either way, it's a reminder that we go to the theatre for an in-the-moment tension and release our digital screens can't satisfy.
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