Growing Up Capulet
Adaptation elevated by Romeo and Juliet’s better half
by rick levin
|photo: John Watson
Folk wisdom tells us that girls tend to mature, physically and emotionally, more rapidly than their same-age male counterparts. This is a truism that serves alternately as an excuse, an explanation and a royal pain in the ass for sexually ripe but psychologically jejune dudes angling to get laid. And, really, was there ever a swain so utterly out of his league as Romeo in his early encounters with Juliet? What a sweet talker, what a bare bodkin! Shakespeare, who knew everything there is to know about everything, certainly understood that the boy’s balls by any other name were still blue. When balcony-bound Romeo prepares to swear to the sky for her, Juliet repels him out of hand: “Oh, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,” she says. Hateth not the player but his game. Of course, an infinite variety of readings enrich this scene, ranging from the romantically swooning to the teasingly flirtatious to the wise bordering on cynicism (Seriously, dude, the moon?). Most productions spin the woo honey sweet, grafting a soft-focus sentimentality to the high-flown banter — you can almost hear the chirping birds and swelling violins.
Keeping this in mind, I submit that there is one most excellent reason to attend LCC Student Productions Association’s otherwise uneven staging of Romeo and Juliet. Forget the half-baked post-apocalyptic conceit, signified by nothing more than Lady Gaga songs and costuming cribbed from The Road Warrior. No — what makes this adaptation of Shakespeare’s great story of doomed love so wonderful to behold is Juliet herself, remade in all her 14-year-old, Victorian-by-way-of-Armageddon glory by the wonderfully nuanced acting of Leela Gouveia. A second-year student of theater arts, Gouveia inhabits this oft-inhabited role with a charming blend of sophistication, restraint and stage smarts. It’s a thrilling performance, accentuated by expert attention to the most minor but telling of details — a nearly imperceptible roll of the eyes, a flirtatious smirk passing like a nervous tic, the way a foot twitches, just once, when she receives her deathbed kiss. Such gestures work to make Juliet as real and believable as that Verona girl next door. Through inflection and emphasis, Gouveia conveys the fiery insolence and spontaneous desires of youth without jilting the play’s language or lampooning the stereotypical up-speaking idiocy of adolescence. Under the sure direction of Patrick Torelle, Gouveia’s performance restores Juliet to her youth.
And, this is the important part, youth is restored to her — an aggressive, flirty, smart, retiring, spontaneous, spirited, clumsy, sexy, funny, scolding, horny, righteous and ready-to-die-for-love youth. Basically, Juliet’s a teenage girl knocked off her orbit by a boy.
So dead on is Gouveia’s performance that it serves to right many of the production’s missteps. As Romeo, Jordon Nowotny spends the first act looking way too pleased with himself, and his wry, mechanical delivery mocks the formal rigors of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter (which, like, is so 1593). By the second act, however, Nowotny — apparently realizing someone’s running circles around him — undergoes a much needed growth spurt, dropping the stiff posturing and easing more comfortably into the role. The lanky Johnny Rogers gives Mercutio an amusingly metrosexual spin; Aaron Archer portrays Benvolio as a sort of glowering upright geek; Savanna Wilson is amazing as the Nurse; and Aaron Elkin gives a hilarious goose to the figure of Lord Capulet, turning the portly paterfamilias into a gruff, swaggering Mafioso right out of The Sopranos.
If none of these fine performances — taken together with the machine guns, rave strobes, Thunderdome-ish set and pounding dance music — add up to the end-of-the-world feel for which the production strives, it doesn’t matter. In the final reckoning, this Romeo & Juliet still qualifies as a moving portrait of the timeless teenage wasteland, and one kid in particular is more than all right. Just be like Romeo, and never take your eyes off that fairest Capulet. She makes the “two hours’ traffic” of the stage more than worthwhile
Romeo & Juliet continues through April 24 at LCC. Tix at www.lanecc.edu/tickets or 541-463-5761.