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Shakespeare’s “star cross’d lovers” get some extra company in Ellen Stewart’s freewheeling, convoluted adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. In addition to the Montague and Capulet teens, Juliet’s Nurse and servant Peter spar amorously in this “dance opera” version of the tragedy. And in the moments just before Tybalt and Mercutio do battle in the Verona streets, a mountebank introduces seven different acts, including a dance interpretation of the Russian Petrushka fable, a song from a bearded lady, and Salome’s dance of the seven veils.
Presumably, these moments are meant to contextualize Romeo and Juliet’s end, placing it within society at-large. But combined with Stewart’s drastic cuts to the text, the lovers’ tragedy simply gets lost, leading to audience frustration, if not annoyance. Off-pitch singing from many performers compounds the production’s problems, inducing winces during otherwise melodically intriguing songs by Stewart, Michael Sirotta, Genji Ito, Heather Paauwe, and Yuko Tsuji. As La MaMa winds down its 40th-anniversary season, this Romeo and Juliet reminds us of both Stewart’s legacy for innovation and its attendant results: sometimes grand success, and sometimes, like here, curious failure.