I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: "I don't need another Romeo + Juliet in my life." You're thinking: "I already know how it ends." You're thinking: "How good could it be?" It's really, really good. Rich Smith, who used to teach Shakespeare to undergrads, calls it a "thrilling production." I agree wholeheartedly.
I edited Rich's review, and then a week later I got to see the production myself, and there's nothing in Rich's published review that I disagree with. He called Gabriella O'Fallon "officially a rising star in Seattle theater," turning in a performance that should "add lift and luminosity to her career." Rich also observed a few brilliant things about the actor playing Romeo, the new jokes added to the script, the staging with the chainlink fences. There was only one thing about Rich's review I disagreed with.
First, let me just quote Rich some more on the subject of Romeo, played in this production by a deaf actor, Josh Castille.
Romeo, played by Joshua Castille, signs to other characters and they sign back. Sometimes an interpreter serves as interlocutor. Other times, a group of actors voices Romeo's lines, popcorn-reading style. Castille also yells out lines during moments of emotional stress, which is enormously affecting.
I agree with that. Rich also writes:
Having other actors literally voice Romeo's lines while he signs embodies the central theme of the universality of love. It also compounds the tragedy of Romeo's death. Watching him die is like watching the whole town die.
Couldn't have put it better myself.
So what do I disagree with in Rich's review? Well, the thing I disagree with is actually not in Rich's review because I took it out during the editing process. Like the evil editor I am! In my defense, Rich wrote more words than he had been allotted for the print version, leaving me to have to find some cuts, so this is one of the passages I cut:
Over my dead body, Rich Smith!
Criticizing Amy Thone, the greatest actress we have? Amy Thone, a certifiable genius in Seattle theater? Amy Thone, who can play any part, up to and including Richard Nixon? Amy Thone, star not only of the stage but also the screen (have you seen Lynn Shelton's film Laggies, starring Sam Rockwell and Keira Knightley, in which Thone plays a principal)? Amy Thone, longtime Cornish professor, where she was once Jinkx Monsoon's acting teacher? I don't think so, Rich Smith! Who are you again?
JK, JK. Truthfully, Rich would have been allowed to criticize Amy Thone if he really wanted to. All he would have had to do is turn in his first draft at word count, and there would have been no good reason to cut anything. Or, when he saw that I cut the paragraph in question, he could have fought for it to be reinstated, which he did not.
The only reason I bring it up is because (spoiler alert) after seeing the production myself I have to say that I THINK AMY THONE WAS AMAZING. Not only does she play the nurse (a small role, but she does it hilariously), she also voices many of Romeo's lines (articulately, heartbreakingly), and she voices the chorus at the very outset of the show—you know, the "in fair Verona, where we lay our scene" stuff.
Thone did that "in fair Verona" bit in a way I've never seen it done before. She did it with alarm. She did it with urgency, worry, everything about her voice and posture bracing for menace. I have only ever heard those "in fair Verona" lines delivered in a bucolic sing-song, but Thone did it in a way that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It pulled me into the tension of the show, the tension between Capulets and Montagues, in a way I hadn't remembered being pulled in before. It felt like a new interpretation to me, and it was the kind of interpretation that makes you think all the previous interpretations you've seen have been wrong.
There's also a great moment when Thone tries to scramble over one of the chainlink fences. The scenic design is by Skip Mercier, and it's clever, downright inspired, employing three standalone chainlink fences that are rearranged in dizzying combinations throughout the show, sometimes forming a long wall, other times forming a three-sided enclosure, etc.
Rich, to his credit, did single out the chainlink fences for praise, writing: "The coolest thing is actors balletically wheeling three massive chain-link fences around the stage, symbolizing the many kinds of separation in the play."
Romeo + Juliet plays at ACT Theatre through March 31.