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Sunday, October 13, 2013


Shakespeare Rocks the Old Globe

“THE LAST GOOD-BYE” at the Old Globe Theatre thru Nov. 3

GUEST BLOG by Marianne Regan [Reprinted from San Diego Metro, October 2013]--I always enjoy seeing different director's interpretations of Shakespeare's plays, whether they are staged to take place centuries ago, current period or sometime in the future. "The Last Goodbye," now running at the Old Globe Theatre, is a mash-up of not only eras, but also of rock music and lyrics.  Oh, the Shakespeare text is there, alright, just enough to advance the story, but not so much that it slows down the action.

Talisa Friedman as Juliet and
Jay Armstrong Johnson as Romeo
This unlikely pairing was conceived and adapted by Michael Kimmel. By taking the contemporary music of Jeff Buckley and melding it with the Bard's "Romeo and Juliet," Kimmel has given us an entirely new and fresh take on this timeless love story.  Director Alex Timbers, who was Tony Award-nominated for "Peter and the Starcatcher," directs each scene like a music video, and 2013 Emmy Award nominee Sonya Tayeh choreographs with a lot of swagger and crotch-grabbing -- completely contemporary and, in light of the recent VMA awards -- totally in line with the younger generation. 

Talisa Friedman as Juliet
The set is marvelous. Medieval stone arches span the length of the proscenium stage, allowing the actors to play above, is if they are on a bridge (or a balcony), or below as if they are on the ground (or in a crypt).  The costumes are a mix of goth and punk, with a little bit of Blade Runner thrown in. Lots of leather, spiked hair, and nasty looking knives, swords, daggers and chains make both the Montagues, and their arch-enemies, the Capulets, menacing and dangerous.

Romeo, as played by Jay Armstrong Johnson, is a young, dreamy and aimless teen, whining and pining for a girl who doesn't give him the time of day. His cousin Benvolio (a sincere and affable Brandon Gill), encourages him to "think outside the box" and takes him in secret to the Capulet's masked ball, where he discovers Juliet, a dewy and luminous Talisa Friedman.
Quicker than a New York second, the two teens are drawn together and make plans to wed. Friar Laurence (versatile Stephen Bogardus) plays the good guy in agreeing to officiate and hopefully, bring a cease fire to the feuding families. However, this scene becomes disturbing, as the two newlyweds are then surrounded by a coven of Friars who chant and twirl around them while R&J simulate an intense and energetic love scene. At one point, the Friars even get involved by catching and tossing Romeo or Juliet back into the fray.

Juliet's cousin, Tybalt (a focused Jeremy Woodard) comes across as a killer in search of a victim; however Romeo's lieutenant, Mercutio (a scary Hale Appleman), is downright itchy, twitchy and psychotic in his zeal for a fight.  When these two meet, there can only be one result. It's just a shame that they don't finish each other off at the same time. Of course, Romeo slays Tybalt and becomes banished from Verona.

Daniel Oreskes as Capulet and
Shannon Cochran as Lady Capulet
Juliet’s parents intend to marry her off to Count Paris (Eric Morris) the next morn and she and the Friar conspire for her to drink a potion and "play dead" while Romeo is being sent for. Not knowing of the ruse, Romeo hears of her death and rushes to the tomb to find her cold body. He too, secures a poison potion and while the audience is silently screaming, "Don't drink it!  Don't drink it!" Romeo dies and Juliet pops awake. Oddly, they both jump up and begin to sing a duet ("The Last Goodbye") and then, abruptly, Romeo dies (again) and Juliet stabs herself.

The onstage rock band did not interfere with the audience's attention and while many of the lyrics to the songs were undecipherable, the melody of the music usually matched the action on stage.
Buckley's "The Last Goodbye" is the lovers' theme song as they say goodbye to each other at least three times during their short relationship. So it becomes really poignant at the very end, when it is obviously their very last goodbye:  "This is our last goodbye. I hate to feel the love between us die. But it's over; just hear this and then I'll go, you gave me more to live for, more than you'll ever know."

And at the end, the families who are now joined in grief, join hands and sing "Hallelujah" -- a Buckley remake of the Leonard Cohen song, and probably the only one that most people will recognize. While the melody of this song is haunting, the lyrics don't actually fit the situation and the pairing here seems forced.

From left: actors Drew Foster, Adam Perry,
Nik Walker and Billy Bustamante
Still, it's a damn shame that Buckley died in 1997 at 30. This collaboration could have put him on his way to an even wider audience. For those who don't like Shakespeare, but do like rock musicals, "The Last Goodbye" is Shakespeare-lite, rock-heavy and hip. Don't miss it.

"The Last Goodbye" a musical adaptation of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," conceived and adapted by Michael Kimmel, music and lyrics by Jeff Buckley. Performances through Nov. 3.

Marianne Regan

Marianne Regan is a member of Actor's Equity and SAG-AFTRA since 1981. She began a career in theater in 1976 at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pa., and moved to San Diego in 1985. She has performed at the North Coast Repertory Theater, the Mission Playhouse and has taught and directed at the San Diego Junior Theater.

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