Lesbian 'Romeo and Juliet' set in an implausible, ideal world

Isa St. Clair (left) as Juliet, Rachel Gluck as Romeo in Curio Theatre's "Romeo and Juliet," the tale universalized for all sexual orientations.
Isa St. Clair (left) as Juliet, Rachel Gluck as Romeo in Curio Theatre's "Romeo and Juliet," the tale universalized for all sexual orientations. (REBECCA MIGLIONICO)
Posted: October 16, 2013

Director Krista Apple undertook no easy task in her lesbian version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet now being presented by Curio Theatre Company. Unlike Joe Calarco's Shakespeare's R&J, which rewrote the plot to introduce budding homosexual affections between students at an all-boys school, Apple changed little. Romeo is a woman, Juliet falls in love with her, both suffer from the war between their families.

The problems here don't lie in the performances. Rachel Gluck delivers a lovable Romeo, her throaty voice and aggressive mannerisms a nice foil to Isa St. Clair's lovely portrayal of innocence. Although a bit too close in age to St. Clair, Colleen Hughes renders a sensitive depiction of the Nurse, and Aetna Gallagher is a fierce, domineering Lady Capulet.

Curio presents a modern-day Verona on an uninspiring set of platforms. Gallagher's costumes dress Romeo in a wife-beater T with a dirty brown coat over it and blue jeans. Juliet wears party dresses; her mother, business attire.

But it's the culture of Apple's production that stirs disbelief. The feuding factions of teenagers pack pistols and butterfly knives, and wield them readily. And yet, in a play filled with rancor and enmity that erupt into violence at any slight, no one raises an eyebrow, gestures suggestively, or mutters a muffled insult at Romeo and Juliet's love. A Catholic friar quickly marries the pair.

Yes, in an ideal world that's how it should be. And I understand and applaud this ideal as Apple's goal: to universalize this story for all sexual orientations. But by letting the text and plot stand, she didn't avail herself of any devices to help suspend disbelief.

Instead, she presents Romeo and Juliet as an ideal so far removed from the present intolerance in Russia, in the Mideast, in the United States, that the absence of it leaps out as a distraction.

Still, the wondrous ambition of Apple's attempt - a story of true love in a world without intolerant hate - maybe shows that readiness is all.


THEATER REVIEW

Romeo and Juliet

Through Nov. 2 at Curio Theatre Company, 4740 Baltimore Ave.

Tickets: $15-$25.

215-525-1350 or curiotheatre.org.

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