“Romeo and Juliet” is modernized with cars, motorcycles — and a novel staging on the CBS Studio Center backlot. Although imaginative and ambitious, the production seems like “Rebel Without a Cause” meets the “90210” kids.
In this production, the Jewish Montagues are business rivals of the anti-Semitic Catholic Capulets. The play opens with rebellious Tybalt (Steven Wilde), Juliet’s cousin, drawing a swastika on a synagogue before driving away on his Harley.
Later, Romeo (Michael Arabian) and friends philosophize about love while drinking beers and leaning against an old Cadillac.
The first act is performed outside with the audience following the actors from scene to scene. The congregation is ushered across an obstacle course involving much walking between sets, which detracts from the momentum of Shakespeare’s work.
Although the staging by director Arabian (who also doubles as Romeo) is unusual and clever, the prospect of standing in a crowd and walking from scene to scene is not for everyone. Viewing members become too concerned jockeying for position.
The outside location makes actors difficult to be heard, so much of the vocal modulation needed to appreciate Shakespeare gets lost. The second act, performed on a soundstage, gives the audience a theater-in-the-round experience and, finally, seats.
Juliet, Marie Chambers, has a command and comprehension of classical theater that enables her to make sense of the words. Same is true of Richard Voigts (as Montague) and Tim Russ, as Mercutio. Lisa Passero has a vivaciousness as Juliet’s nurse that added the right humor and spirit to her scenes.