Director Barry Edelstein had a dream of people dressed in white and walking barefoot in a sandbox for The Old Globe production of Romeo and Juliet. For me, the oversized sandbox symbolized society not getting along. For Edelstein, we are told at the talk with the actors sans the director, after the show, that he thought the sandbox to be a place of playfulness and innocence. Another audience member thought maybe she over thought the sandbox as being a place for people to learn to get along. The young lady leading the talk says that Barry says it is open to interpretation.
What is clear is that Edelstein aims for a fun Romeo and Juliet.
Romeo (Aaron Clifton Moten) carries a guitar everywhere. Striding, he holds the instrument with the neck pointing away from himself as he loudly strums and sings “I am human and I need to be loved just like everybody else does,” by the Smiths. It’s his way of explaining his love for Rosaline to Benvolio (Morgan Taylor). I root for Benvolio and Romeo for their friendship to bloom as she laughs at everything he does. Yeah they’re cousins. Benvolio leaves and Romeo sings Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” With his guitar, dragging his knees through the sand, Romeo reverberates “Ha-lle-lu-lu-lu-jah-jah-jah.” He closes his eyes for added drama.
The favorite pastime of teenagers leads the funny Mercutio (Ben Chase), best friend Benvolio, and class clown Romeo to a Capulet party. As everyone dances at the masquerade, pianist Justin Gray plays on a black grand piano, off to the side on a higher stage, surrounded by candelabras. And he plays my favorite Tchaikovsky piece! Romeo sees Juliet (Louisa Jacobson). A beam of light shines on her as all goes still. “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright,” Romeo says.
A mini piano, bench, then microphone are set in the middle of the stage. Juliet sits and places her fingers on the keys. She hunches and leans into the mic and sings. The song is familiar but is sung slow and in emo-style. Once she gets to the chorus, the audience responds to the recognition of Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.” Juliet grabs the mic and dancing breaks out to the rest of the party.
It’s all fun and games until Tybalt (Yadira Correa) is knifed. Innocence is lost.
Every time there is a fight weapons come out of the sand. Or Friar Laurence (Jesse J. Perez) digs out herbs for potions. There are metal pegs along the box to mark the hidden props the actors explain.
After the masquerade, the Nurse (Candy Buckley) is left alone and takes the mic then runs to the top of the rock at the corner of the sandbox and belts out a tune. She’s over-the-top and playful as she fights for Juliet. She seems to know Juliet better than her own mother Lady Capulet (Sofia Jean Gomez).
Lady Capulet and Lord Capulet (Cornell Womack) are parents who want what they think is best for their daughter. As Lord Capulet throws his voice at his daughter about who she will marry, I think he has dealt with teenagers before. A lady behind me whispers, “Nice guy,” as Lord Capulet walks off stage. A man sitting next to her whispers, “That’s daddy.”
I had been waiting to see Romeo and Juliet for a long time. The San Diego Opera put on a production about ten years ago, but I missed it, I tell the usher. She let’s me know The Old Globe production isn’t traditional. The family behind us seems a bit critical the show wasn’t word for word. The daughters joke how their mom brought a book of the play. I wonder if that is why I rarely see the play produced in SoCal? Everyone is familiar with the play and a critic.
Be prepared to be entertained.
Before the show night traffic isn’t too bad until we get to downtown San Diego. We decide to try a new restaurant near Balboa Park in the Gaslamp but parking is difficult. I park near the colorful Horton Plaza Mall. After deciding not to eat at the Thai place and not to walk to a Sushi place we head into the mall that has a good food court and if all fails there is a new Jimbo’s. All the stores are closed. The food court is dark. A questionable man passes by. Down the escalator through the automatic doors and past the security guard, we end up in Jimbo’s. Hardly anyone is in there. I ask the guy behind the bakery section what happened. He said the mall went downhill about two years ago after Jimbo’s moved in, but Jimbo’s is doing great. He blamed Amazon, I think, or maybe I was thinking that. He said tech businesses are coming in and some of the building will be used for housing. It is eerie sitting in the Jimbo’s café almost alone with piped in music. A ghost town in the middle of a city.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare directed by Barry Edelstein runs from August 11 – September 15, 2019 at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. (This is an open-air theatre so bring a sweater and blanket. Order your coffee and tea before the show and have it waiting for you at intermission.)
The Old Globe • 1363 Old Globe Way • San Diego • CA • 92101 • Phone (619) 231-1941.
Copyright 2019 Melissa Crismon