Even waiting in line to get into the theater, Romeo and Juliet is all about Orlando Bloom. Will he really “get hearts racing” as promised on the marquee?
A dramatic beginning with fire shocks the audience into notice and the play begins.
The stage design is simple with a large graffiti covered wall that moves to create the illusion of rooms, height, doorways and rock wall. The graffiti looks like it came from a fresco in pre-renaissance Italy and seems both modern and dated at the same time. If race weren’t such an underscoring element of David Leveaux’s modernized version of Romeo and Juliet, perhaps the large white heads wouldn’t be so glaringly white and feel so out of place. A large bell sits ominously on the stage as you enter and wait for the play to begin. Waiting for the death toll that we know is coming.
Orlando Bloom enters the stage on a motorcycle. A loud, distracting motorcycle that loops its way around the stage. Bloom keeps his helmet on as long as possible and you can almost hear the women in the audience exhale as he takes off his helmet. And then, an involuntary applause for Bloom—just because he’s there…in real life—which only confirms what we thought coming into the show; it’s all about Orlando Bloom.
As we settle into the play, Bloom becomes Romeo (he was definitely still Bloom on the motorcycle). His monologues with the audience are poignant and he delivers strong lines that are easily understood and filled with emotion. He is convincing as a man in love and his relationship with Juliet, played beautifully by Condola Rashad, develops into a believable, desperate passion.
Condola Rashad’s Juliet is naïve and young and as the play progresses, she evolves into a powerful, self-assured Juliet that I didn’t see coming. Her stage presence and fluidity throughout the play easily holds the stage against Bloom and she makes for a compelling and strong Juliet.
In the end, Romeo and Juliet is all about passion. Bloom and Rashad have a ridiculous scene where they kiss, then kiss more, and keep kissing, then don’t stop and still there’s more kissing—to the point where the audience starts to laugh. While I would expect some element of comic relief, I found it distracting that the director would chose to treat the “passion” between Romeo and Juliet as a source of the “joke” that he and the audience were having at the expense of our tragic heroes. Thankfully, Bloom and Rashad are able to overcome this and the audience begs for forgiveness for laughing…that is until Bloom takes off his shirt and again we are reminded that this isn’t really Romeo…its Orlando Bloom playing Romeo. Very distracting.
Yet, I was convinced by the end. Romeo and Juliet belonged together and tragically Juliet’s realization of what has become of her love leads her to the inevitable conclusion of the play. I needed, I wanted to pause and feel that moment. But instead, the play rushed on and before I knew it, the cast was bowing and the audience was clapping. I clapped too. It was a great production…but I could have lingered just a little longer in the emotional conclusion and that would have made all the difference.
*we were invited to view the show to facilitate a review, all opinions are my own.