Pocket Universe casts a different kind of light on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. With a framing device that pulls the audience into this generation, Alyssa May Gold’s adaptation and direction tells the age old story through a youthful and feminist lens.
Juliet + Romeo opens with teenage Maddie (Maddie Perez Browning) expressing angst at a, very likely romantic, disappointment. After throwing herself onto the bed in a Disney princess sort of way, a copy of Romeo and Juliet appears. As she begins to read it, Shakespeare’s characters appear, transforming her bedroom into their stage. Maddie reacts honestly to each element of the story as is plays out, and her reactions pull out the nuances that are relative and troubling in today’s society: the idea that 14 year old Juliet is old enough to be a mother, the absurdity of Romeo’s upset at Rosalind’s refusal of sex, the callous and possessive manner in which men talk about women, and the extreme measures that youth will resort to in order to gain a sense of control.
The framing device of delivering the story through the lens of Maddie’s world is very successful. It is clear that Maddie is in control of how the story is perceived. She adds to this by playing the role of the prince who punishes the houses of Capulet and Montague, and it seems she is even in control of which scenes are cut out.
Alyssa May Gold excels at staging in the round, no matter one sits, you can see everything. The movement of the piece is fluid with quick fight choreography (by Will Gallacher) and charming dance choreography (by Jessica Dukatt) for the Capulet party and the wedding scene.
Standing out among the actors is Lauren Pisano (playing Lady/Lord Capulet and Mercutio). She is masterful and grounded her delivery and she lives each word. Notably, I applaud her Queen Mab speech. As Friar, Paris and Benvolio, Schuyler Van Amson brings his characters variety and authority as necessary. Ashil Lee’s Nurse is delightful and variable, loving and necessarily facetious. As Juliet and Romeo, Alyssa May Gold and Trace Pope are well matched in youthful passion. They play the extremes realistically, while Maddie Perez Browning delivers her commentary and judgement through looks, verbal reactions and pleas which no character can hear.
The Access Theatre is one of the most interesting makeshift theatrical spaces in New York City, and the design team uses every bit of that to their advantage. Christina Tang (lighting design) uses fairy lights, floor lanterns, and track lights with gels to supplement and soften the few theatrical lights in the space. Set designer Benny Pitt plays off this warmth with a star theme colored in blue, white and gold. The color scheme is reflected in Ashleigh Poteat’s costumes: Montague is blue, Capulet is a golden yellow, gold for the Friar and Paris, red for the oft-foreshadowing Nurse while white and black are reserved for neutral parties. The costumes also directly create a parallel between Maddie and Juliet – they are the ruled by emotional freedom and social captivity of youth.
It is always pleasant to enjoy an old story with a new twist, and Pocket Universe’s production gets it just right.
Juliet + Romeo, Pocket Universe, Access Theater, 380 Broadway. Closes February 2.
Info and Tickets: https://www.pocket-universe.com/