Theater review: 'Romeo and Juliet' -- 2.5 stars
Got a craving to see teenagers defy an ancestral family grudge and discover all-consuming romance, leading to their ultimate tragedy? There are currently two separate productions of "Romeo and Juliet" on view.
They look similar at first glance, featuring starry casts, spare scenic designs, modern dress and streamlining of the original text.
The first, which opened on Broadway last month, is uneven and underwhelming, with the veteran actors in supporting roles wiping the floor with leads Condola Rashad and Orlando Bloom.
If not much else, it will be remembered for Bloom's cheesy entrance on a motorcycle and for the perplexing decision to cast the Capulet family with black actors and the Montague family with white actors.
The second, which just opened Off-Broadway at Classic Stage in the East Village and stars Elizabeth Olsen, T.R. Knight and an unknown named Julian Cihi who took over as Romeo at the last minute, is unapologetically strange but also intimate and frequently engaging.
Directed by Tea Alagic, the staging takes place on what appears to be a gym floor. With a line drawn down the center, perhaps meant to divide one family from the other, one might think the cast was about to play dodgeball. Except for a table and chairs, there is no other scenery. Not even a balcony. It also begins with an unnecessary, wordless prologue where the actors enter one by one and face the audience.
But these directorial touches aside, the acting in the Off-Broadway "Romeo and Juliet" is quite good, with Olsen leading the pack as an especially precocious and forceful Juliet who brings a sense of urgency to her scenes. Cihi is similarly intense as Romeo, plunging headlong into the role of a self-consumed teen.
Other standouts include Knight's scruffy and raving Mercutio, Daniel Davis' tenderhearted Friar Lawrence and David Garrison's firm Capulet. The odd one in the bunch is Daphne Rubin-Vega, whose take on the Nurse as a floozy is distracting and extremely out of place.
"Romeo and Juliet" plays at Classic Stage through Nov. 3. 136 E. 13th St., 212-352-3101, classicstage.org.