It can be difficult to gain contemporary audience for Shakespearean performance. Though the Bard’s works are mounted across the world in amplitude (and many attend), rarely does a community-driven production spark interest in those modern and young. Thrillingly, In BK Productions’s Romeo + Juliet accomplishes just that.
Staged at the Peristyle in southern Prospect Park, this collective’s outdoor performance means that any passerby can stop and watch. As the Grecian structure is situated right next to the lake—rife with distractions of swans, ducks, and geese—the proof of captivation is in the children who perched next to me the entirety of the production. The oldest couldn’t have been more than eight years old, yet they were riveted. They followed the story with fair ease, they asked questions, they exclaimed as excited children are wont to do. It made me smile, and illustrated the impact of accessible Shakespeare like this cast provides.
In BK Productions’s version finds more similarities with Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film than traditional staging. The characters don costumes easily found in any Bed-Stuy coffee shop: the male-identified characters run in hightop Converse, the female-identified dance in combat boots. Their carriage is highly modernized, replete with slouches, fist bumps, antsy movement, any amount of hipster posturing. They speak in casual, grounded vernacular: though the original text remains unchanged (albeit cut to 80 minutes), it has a near-modern cadence to it.
And that, frankly, is exactly what makes the production work.
This is the first iteration of Romeo and Juliet I’ve seen that truly gets the friendship dynamics correct. I was mesmerized by the male triad, in particular. Romeo, Benvolio, and Mercutio (played by Leah Schwartz, Landon Beard, and Paul Schack) craft a trio that feels undeniably real. It’s easy to see that the three have been best friends since childhood; their ribbing, complexity, malleability, and raucous fun never feel forced. There is a throughline of platonic love underneath every spoken word, and it feels joyous. That building makes Mercutio’s death all the more impactful.
And then there is the duo of Juliet and her Nurse (played by Lillian Bornstein and Abby Byrne). I found it rather refreshing to see a younger-portrayed Nurse, as it allows a sort of camaraderie to develop between the two that can be more difficult to accomplish otherwise. Their ease of friendship—tempered by the employer/subordinate relationship—adds a further layer to Nurse’s aiding of Juliet’s romantic plight. It brought me back to my high school days, filled with schoolgirl giddiness, the thrill of first love, and the gossip of the town.
Speaking of, yet another kudos to give to this production: their Romeo and Juliet actually act their age. They are immature. They are learning. They are tensile. They’re fickle in emotional swings, and fiercely loyal in their love and friendship. Often, I find myself rolling my eyes at Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting and abrupt love affair: how does one believe that people in their 30s would behave in such a way? Schwartz and Bornstein’s portrayals provide no merit to that argument. There is a whimsy in their first meeting, and a naïve hope to their marriage and exile. From the timbre of their voices to the shuffling of their feet, from Bornstein’s darting eyes to Schwartz’s gesticulating hands, they exude youth with a maturity many would envy.
Truly, In BK Productions found complexity in every character. I cherished the uncertainty in Benvolio’s calm intellect, the overcompensation in Mercutio’s dancing humor, the desperation in Paris’s well-intentioned wooing, the fear within Capulet’s power, the defense mechanism within Tybalt’s loyalty, and the self-preservation in Friar Laurence’s joviality. They’ve assembled a wonderful cast, and have found meaning within verse that resonates with a contemporary audience.
It’s a fantastic cut of a long play. The fight choreography (by Schwartz) is wonderfully done, and the intimacy direction (by Byrne) finds its foothold beautifully. It’s a lovely capsule of a production. I highly recommend you attend.
In BK Productions’s Romeo + Juliet is free and open to the public. Running through April 1st, the production features Leah Schwartz, Lillian Bornstein, Paul Schack, Landon Beard, Abby Byrne, Ashley Epp, Paul Lutvak, Ryan Molloy, and Jo Cutrona, with direction by Schack and Bornstein. More information can be found here.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.
This post was written by Rhiannon Ling.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.