Who would have thought proposing Romeo and Juliet as a Tinder date would get a girl ghosted? I mean I get it. To someone looking for a casual hookup what could be a bigger red flag? Here’s a guy who wants to vanish in the morrow and here’s a play where two people who just met get married. Call it a litmus test. The results? Three ghosts and one almost-too-eager assent. Was “David” really a fan of the Bard, I wondered, or was he Googling the quotes that peppered our Tinder chat? Were those horn-rimmed glasses a fashion statement, or was he half-blind without them? Only one way to find out.
I arrived in the Lower East Side just before seven to find a bespectacled David waiting by the fence with red rose in hand. Did I mention this was Shakespeare in the Parking Lot? The Drilling Company has been killing Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Ophelia, Anthony and Cleopatra, you name it, for 25 years—free of charge! If that’s not a service to the community, I don’t know what is.
“I brought you a stink blossom,” David said as he handed me the rose. I breathed in the fragrance, impressed by the gift, but even more by the double-reference to Shakespeare and the Simpsons, both personal faves. “Juliet was right,” I replied, “It smells as sweet.” The evening was off to a good start. He gallantly offered his arm and walked me to the stage, a square of asphalt surrounded on three sides by zip-tied rows of plastic chairs and on the fourth by a battered scaffold that practically cried out “Romeo! Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo!” in a husky New York accent.
So much for the prologue. How about the play? I have to admit I was a little worried when a street gang straight from an 80’s movie interrupted Shakespeare’s prologue with a boom box that drowned out the opening lines. But once Adam Huff’s loud and lovable Romeo and Anwen Darcy’s pert and playful Juliet met, I knew all would be well—except for the tragic ending, of course.
With a play as familiar and as frequently staged as Romeo and Juliet, the obvious question is: “What will these guys do differently?” The standard gimmick is to shift the action to a more “relatable” epoch. Luckily this show did little of that. Instead, under the guidance of skilled director Lukas Raphael, it relied on lively staging in a familiar setting, genuine chemistry between the characters, and strong, convincing performances that bring out the nuances and humor of Shakespeare’s text. These actors aren’t just reciting lines. They get Shakespeare, and they want you to get him, too.
Alessandro Colla’s Mercutio was especially adept at teasing out the funny parts, and Una Clancy’s Nurse was just hilarious, particularly in the scene where Juliet has to massage the news out of her. Yet both manage to rise movingly to the occasion when death rears it head.
On the tragic front, Serena Ebony Miller moves convincingly between Nun and Friar, delivering a passionate performance as both. And Jack Sochet gave me chills as the livid Capulet, threatening to disown his daughter one moment, only to find her (seemingly) dead the next. A father’s remorse at being unable to take back what he said was etched on Sochet’s tortured face.
There were a few problems of a technical sort. The otherwise excellent John Caliendo was just too quiet as Benvolio/Paris, and the dying lovers expired on the ground—out of sight and hearing of at least half the audience.
But let’s face it. The highlight of Romeo and Juliet is the balcony scene. And this production did not disappoint. Set on a ramshackle scaffold in a parking lot, the birth of a tragic passion was all the more poignant, like a flower blossoming through a crack in the cement. The audience sat smiling and spellbound in the gathering dusk, a gentle breeze rustling the trees behind them. It was the kind of magic only live theatre can deliver.
“O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?” chides Romeo like a handsy Tinder date. “What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?” Julie responds coyly in one of her finer moments. That pretty much sums up how my date with “David” ended. Did he call the next day and offer to marry me? No, he swiped left and moved on. And so did I.
Maybe that’s why attempts to modernize this play usually fall flat. In an era with so few obstacles to love, Romeo and Juliet’s sudden, fatal passion is simply unrelatable. All a girl can do is sit back and let herself be transported to an exotic age when men fought and died for love—without forgetting it’s also an age when fathers treated daughters like chattel. The thrill is in the unrelatable, the unfamiliar. It’s in the journey. And for all the Romeos and Juliets I’ve seen, I can honestly say it’s a journey best taken in a parking lot with The Drilling Company.
Romeo and Juliet is running through July 27 at The Clemente Parking Lot, 114 Norfolk Street. For more information visit shakespeareintheparkinglot.com