Updating the conflicts within “Romeo and Juliet” to the current debates over the war in Iraq is a concept with potential not adequately realized in this imaginative but flawed legiter. Scripter Hawley Anderson reimagines the Bard’s “tale of woe” from the point of view of a conflicted Juliet, here renamed Jules (Juliana Moreno), who strives to reconcile her awakening love for Muslim classmate Rahim (Ajay Satpute) with the inflexible right-wing views of her family. Anderson fails to develop this premise beyond bigoted entry-level anti/pro war shouting matches, further undermined by helmer Davin Palmer’s awkward and unfocused staging.
In a story set between the years 2000 and 2005, Anderson puts in motion the improbable notion of solitary, dark-skinned Rahim waging a one-student antiwar campaign in a heartland high school dominated by WASP bullies, including Jules’ two older brothers, Sam (Jonathan Weber) and Ty (Christopher Goss), as well as Jules’ intellectually challenged boyfriend Tommy (Johnny Rowles). The physical and rhetorical taunting is sophomoric, never progressing beyond “love it or leave it” posturing.
Much more telling is the suicide of Jules’ crippled Gulf War vet Dad (Robin Stuart) and the eventual death of brother Sam after he enlists in the Marine Corps to fight in the second Gulf War. When the deeply despairing Ty (an updated Tybalt) learns that his sister is having a relationship with the “enemy,” he is set on his murderous agenda. Only this time, our modern-day Juliet learns of his plans.
The flow of this work is hampered by an abundance of clunky scene changes and hampered even further by Mina Kinukawa’s awkwardly placed set pieces. Helmer Palmer fails to instill a sense of thematic consistency as characters often fail to inhabit their personalities throughout their time onstage, especially during their entrances and exits.
What does work well is Moreno’s luminous portrayal of a Kansas City teen, blossoming from a callow teenybopper “little sister” in a staunch, military family to an unshakable adult soul, thoroughly committed to supporting and protecting the man she loves.
Satpute is quite believable as the aesthetic social martyr Rahim, who appears more than surprised that he has won the heart of this all-American girl. The effete-looking Satpute does not project the same veracity as the supposed pugnacious battler who at one time broke the jaw of burly Ty in a fistfight.
One confusing character is Ty’s girlfriend Rosie, who is described by Jules as being an intellectually superior, holistically evolved soul. As played with utter commitment by Jessica Plotin, this character could by likened to a latter-day Lady Macbeth, a seething, bigoted uncompromising warrior against the happiness of Jules and Rahim.