L-R: Matthew Russell (The Bard), Ryan McCurdy (Mercutio),
Christine Verleny (Mistress Quickly), Mick Bleyer (Ben). Photo by Gerry
by Julia Polinsky
by the talented young playwright Laura Hirschberg, presents a back story for Romeo
and Juliet. It focuses on Mercutio, whose tale of love and death plays out
against a backdrop of graffiti, modern pop tunes, and hipster hats. The
potential for disaster is huge, but the show turns out to be charming, largely
due to excellent direction of an engaging and talented cast.
The scene: Verona. The walls: graffiti’d slabs of concrete that pivot to become
garden or pub or anywhere in Verona. The story: Mercutio (the excellent Ryan
McCurdy) swears off women and love forever. He and Ben (Mick Bleyer) repair to
a pub, to drown their sorrows and pick fights, and also for Ben to woo his
ladylove, Mistress Quickly (Christine Verleny). Romeo (Jacob Owen) enters,
enlists Mercutio as a wingman for tea with Rosaline (Lauren Riddle) and her
visiting cousin, Alyssa (Rachel Flynn).
Ryan McCurdy as Mercutio, Rachel Flynn as Alyssa
Mercutio and Alyssa meet and fall in love – at least, Mercutio does. But Alyssa
leaves everywhere she goes; a wanderer, she travels, and the world is her home.
For Mercutio, Verona is the world. Heartbreak and breakup in the second act are
inevitable, as the action of Romeo and Juliet starts to seep into the
action of Verona Walls. The famous sword fight between Tybaldt and
Mercutio ends as it ends, no surprises.
huge surprises. Nothing looks or sounds as could be expected, in a play heavily
based on Shakespeare’s best known work. With Verona Walls, author Laura
Hirschberg makes the decision to turn Romeo, Benvolio, and especially Mercutio
into post-postmodern dudes, and makes a mash up of references to the 16th
is reminiscent of a drinking bout after a Shakespeare seminar, with bright,
witty people tossing around ideas and what-ifs. What if Benvolio is actually a
super-fighter, dangerous and deadly? What if Mercutio is the jaded uber-dude
ladies man of Verona, and meets The One? What if the walls of Verona are
covered with graffiti? What if Rosaline shows up, and she’s a hottie with
attitude? What if Romeo is kind of a wimp? What if, what if, what if?
Ben Sumrall and Liz Wasser as the Chorus
characters in Verona Walls feel and sound like a group of clever,
erudite English grad students, throwing classical poetry into their
conversation because they’re addicted to conspicuous literacy. They talk to
each other in 21st century American youthspeak, occasionally salted
with words culled from Shakespeare’s work.
L-R: Christine Verleny, Rachel Flynn,
Lauren Riddle, Ben Sumrall
characters are so modern. The male leads are not men; they are Guys, in
black leather jackets, and jeans. The ladies mostly dress in variations of
steampunk, with the exception of fair Rosaline, a high-maintenance chick who
could go to a party tonight in her babealicious dresses. Alyssa owes much to
Shakespeare’s Beatrice, with her snappy comebacks, her wit, her sharpness, and
ultimately, her decision. Mercutio himself is the most fully imagined of the
characters, but the others fade a bit. Romeo, Ben: not quite forgettable,
nearly interchangeable. Of the rest, only Mistress Quickly comes fully to life.
When you have characters named The Man (Ben Sumrall), The Woman (Liz Wasser)
and The Bard (Matthew Russell), they’re pretty much guaranteed to be
one-dimensional – maybe even unnecessary.
phones and swords, daggers and weightlifting gloves: the overall intention may
have been anachronism, but it comes off as poly-chronistic; not things and
speech out of time, but time as flexible. You like that, or you don’t. Director
DeLisa M. White has, surprisingly, made it work, with the help of a dedicated
cast using its considerable talent with care and conviction.
a heads up: an author who chooses to turn Shakespeare’s characters into
contemporary buffoons invites skepticism, at the least. Kudos to Laura
Hirschberg for almost pulling it off, and the excellent cast, for making these
potentially annoying bros into people it wouldn’t kill you to know.
core issue: it’s a pity Hirschberg couldn’t set the play wholly within one time
period or the other. The jarring anachronisms do no service to a play that’s
actually fairly serious. Also, the jokes, pratfalls, and the songs, the out of
place, unnecessary songs, Gershwin, Beatles, Cheap Trick: why?
as if the author couldn’t make the decision to write the play behind this one,
the play that treats these characters and this backstory with care and
seriousness, without resorting to time-bending tricks for their entertainment
value. Without the cross-time, cutesy cultural references, there’s a real play
here. It would be interesting if Hirschberg wrote that play – she’s good enough
to pull it off. In the meantime, Verona Walls has much to entertain,
charm, and delight you, and is well worth seeing.
by The Workshop Theater
W 36th St., 4th Floor
7 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3pm; Wednesday 3/23, 7pm
students and seniors, $15