Artes de la Rosa’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, which opened at the Rose Marine Theater on Friday, is filled with grand ambitions. And it almost realizes them.
Director Adam Adolfo, who is artistic director at Artes de la Rosa, has chosen to set the tragedy in Havana in 1958. The period is reflected in the costuming, and a couple of showgirls wander by occasionally to remind us that Cuba was a gambling mecca before Castro.
It is a compelling, and workable, concept that is perfect for this company. And in its general approach, this production often begs favorable comparison to Baz Luhrmann’s excellent film treatment of the play from 1996.
There are also some interesting character interpretations within that overall framework. Juliet’s mother, Lady Capulet (Jule Nelson Duac), for instance, is transported into the 20th century as a boozy, man-hungry harpy in 1950s fashions.
Adolfo also makes some inspired use of period music, weaving renditions of classics from that era such as Volare and Dream a Little Dream of Me into the action of the play. All of those numbers are superbly sung by Michael Alonzo.
So, there is a lot to like about what Adolfo is trying to do with the look and feel of this oh-so-familiar drama — including the fact that he does all of this while keeping the running time to a reasonable 2 1/2 hours.
But the problem is that he doesn’t have the budget or cast to back his vision.
The action is played on a bare stage. There are just a few sticks of furniture and a couple of slot machines to suggest the time and place. To really deliver on what Adolfo has in mind, this show needs a lot more physical elements to make its concept tangible.
Also, Adolfo has a mostly amateur cast. They are all well prepared and give their absolute best shots. But when a company is doing a show that almost every English-speaking person in the world can recite from memory, it takes a truly exceptional cast to make it memorable for an audience. And it especially takes accomplished performers to pull off the sort of high concept Adolfo has imagined here.
There is also another problem with this production (or, more exactly, this house). At the Sunday performance seen for this review, a family of five bailed out at intermission and created a situation that, unfortunately, I have seen before at this theater: during the second act, the cast outnumbered the audience.
Win, lose or draw, this company deserves better. It is just heartbreaking to see this much effort and talent receive so little support.