It”™s thrilling to gain the opportunity to see an ancient play that is a companion to a masterpiece.Â Translated by Andak Stage Company artistic director and actor Dakin Matthews (True Grit), The Capulets and the Montagues is a modern version, in rhyming-verse, of a seldom performed and relatively obscure work by 16th Century Spanish playwright Lope de Vega. Known as Castelvines y Monteses, his tragicomedy was based on the same source material as was Shakespeare”™s Romeo and Juliet.
Review by Pauline Adamek
How Shakespeare manufactured such a poetic and profoundly romantic tragedy while Lope de Vega created a farcical nonsense, though, it”™s difficult to fathom.
The main theme – one that traces the blossoming, forbidden love affair between the son and daughter of warring families in Verona – has held enough resonance to endure through the ages, as you can see in the urban dance drama West Side Story and even a new kiddie animated flick Gnomeo and Juliet.
For inspiration, both Lope de Vega and Shakespeare borrowed from the tradition of tragic love stories from Roman mythology. Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, relates the sentimental legend of Pyramus and Thisbe, being a tale of a pair of lovers who, due to a misunderstanding, inadvertently die upon each other”™s breast.Â In A Midsummer Night”™s Dream, Shakespeare played the episode to full comic effect as the climax of the ineptly performed and therefore comically perceived play presented by the “˜Rude Mechanicals”™ to the Royal court.
In Lope de Vega”™s play, the Spanish author acknowledges the myth (which would have been known to audiences of that era) but fashions a happy ending for his star-crossed lovers.
Other sources include an Italian tale, translated into verse as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562, also Matteo Bandello”™s novella Giulietta e Romeo.
This resulting modern rhyming translation of Lope de Vega”™s play is, without doubt, a fun experience. It is, however, overlongÂ and so the entire play could use some judicious trimming (even more than was apparently already applied by Matthews).
A young man from a noble family, Romeo Montague (Benny Wills) crashes a party being hosted by the rival family, the Capulets, and becomes smitten by a young maiden. This leads us to one of the play”™s most marvelous scene, where Juliet (Nicole Zanzarella-Giacalone) flirts with her besotted cousin Octavio (R. Scott Thompson) but clearly her words are meant for the handsome young stranger who has caught her eye.
The pair of “˜star-cross”™d”™ lovers conspire to wed, but further feuding between the two families drives them apart until, with the assistance of a trusted priest, they devise a way to end the domestic war once and for all.
I didn”™t especially enjoy the extended metaphoric flights of fancy that the playwright indulges in from time to time. In Act One, Romeo”™s servant (the clown character) Marin (Bruce Green) launches off into a rambling and comedic speech that compares the family rivalry with squabbling cats and dogs and barnyard animals. Rather than amuse, it serves as an early example of just how Shakespeare did this sort of thing so much better, seeing as it is somewhat reminiscent of Mercutio”™s famous fanciful speech about Queen Mab.
Nicole Zanzarella-Giacalone as Juliet shines within an excellent and capable cast of eleven players, especially in a hilarious scene towards the end where she pretends to be a disembodied voice speaking from beyond the grave to spook and admonish her father, Antonio (John Achorn).
Matthews”™ mixture of high-flown, period language was well-chosen, but the interspersed modern idiom was a bit jarring at times. Nicely directed by Anne McNaughton and featuring gorgeous period costuming by Dean Cameron, The Capulets and the Montagues is a wonderful opportunity to experience an alternative version of a legendary tale.
New Place Theatre,
10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood
Runs until February 27, 2011
Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.
Approx 2 hours, 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
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