a happy dagger whittles down ‘romeo & juliet’ to its bare essentials: swear not by the moon (langgam performance troupe, january 2016)

How else can you make the doomed love story of Romeo & Juliet new? Baz Luhrmann brought the young lovers to the modern age while retaining the original lines from Shakespeare’s play; Chris Melohn incorporated social media and dance; the Hypokrit Theater Company brought them to New Delhi and spiced up their story with elements of Bollywood.

In Swear Not By the Moon, the Langgam Performance Troupe does two things: they reverse the gender roles, and they change the space, restricting fair Verona to a loft bed.

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Romeo & Juliet is perfect for a theater experiment in gender role reversals as the two lead characters already challenge the ideas of what their gender can and cannot do in their day and age. Romeo, unlike the men from his family, is sensitive, pines for his love, shies away from violence and confrontations. Juliet, unlike her nurse and the Lady Capulet, is bold (“Then have my lips the sin that they have took…You kiss by the book”) and is not afraid to take matters into her own hands. The gender bender highlights these supposed feminine and masculine qualities found in each character. (Note Joel Garcia’s [as Juliet] booming voice as he tells the nurse to pick the cords up, and Jacq Nacu-Garcia’s [as Romeo] whiny tantrum when she finds out that she will be exiled; note also that these actors are an actual married couple!)

In a way, the gender bender is not that bold of an idea (it has been done before), but coupled with the restrictions in space, it makes for an interesting theater experience. By moving away from the traditional proscenium stage, Jenny Logico-Cruz and team has to restrict the number of actors (you can’t have 10+ actors bumping into each other on that loft bed), distilling the ensemble characters into only two actors. Note how the characters are categorized: the friar and the nurse–counsel and kunsintidor both–is played by the same actor (Anna Karenina Salgado, who I think is fantastic, in her first professional play), while another actor (Neil Raagas) plays the poor casualties of the feud: Lady Capulet, Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, with the actor employing the same body language, the same languid, cat-like body movements. On a continuum, this runs Tybalt to Paris, with Paris the most cat-like of the four, draping the entire length of his body on the incredulous Juliet.

All of the actors wear white–blank slates–allowing the performance to carry the play, as the actors are unable to hide behind scenery, costume, props, or even hair.

The unique stage design also gave rise to smart lighting and blocking decisions. (In a play where Mercutio and Tybalt is played by the same person, you have no choice but to be creative with your lighting and blocking!)

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The stars of Verona.

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Romeo & Juliet meet at the party.

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Romeo with Juliet’s corpse.

My main critique would be some of the actors speak the lines so quickly that I can’t understand them. (Which could be a downer for audience members who are not familiar with the original script.) Other than that, it was a great three hours of raw theater.

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swear not

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5 thoughts on “a happy dagger whittles down ‘romeo & juliet’ to its bare essentials: swear not by the moon (langgam performance troupe, january 2016)

  1. Lovely, I personally prefer plays like this more than the big productions. A good friend/former colleague of mine from Cork said he used to go to these outdoor plays where there were groups of people acting the scenes simultaneously and you had to move amongst them and you had to piece together the story yourself. I’ve wanted to go to once since! I think he mentioned that Cillian Murphy used to act in those plays. He gave me a copy of “Waiting for Godot” (2001). If you have time, watch it here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuU3RrGj3Lc. It’s my favourite version, and as it is a film, understandably way better than the play with McKellen and Stewart which I saw a few years ago.

    • Ooh thanks for the link! I’ve heard about those outdoor plays; reminds me of this thing I read before, an adaptation of Macbeth staged in a building: “Sleep No More tells the story of Macbeth, though the audience is given no programme and there is no speaking from either the actors or audience. The actors (unlike the audience members) wear no masks and perform in passionate, silent, group settings; solitary scenes; and, sometimes, choreographed dances. Audience members are instructed to remain silent and masked at all times once they have boarded the hotel’s elevator up until the time they return to the Manderley Bar; however, they may move freely at their own leisure for up to three hours, choosing where to go and what to see, so that everyone’s journey is unique; they may also exit the premises at any point” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_No_More_(2011_play)

  2. And thanks for that link! The building location sounds interesting. I can’t remember what my friend said about the details of those plays, but the first thing I thought of was the Irish countryside (kind of like the Game of Thrones Live).

    Seeing the pics above, though…really, that trip to Verona is long overdue!

  3. Pingback: Back to Square One | becomings

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