Saturday, January 8, 2011

Romeo es Julia

What is it about some stories that makes us return to them over and over, the ones that we never tire of and always come away with some new insight? Are they just well written, engaging? Is because of the depth of characters or plot? Or because we can relate - see ourselves in the characters? I expect it's a mixture of those things. Everyone has different stories that they connect to like this, but mine are Jane Eyre and Romeo and Juliet. These are my "go-to" books: if something is bothering me they are one of the most common places I turn. In fact, I had an issue this fall because, unthinkably, I moved to Europe without a single copy of Jane Eyre. Even though I don't read it all the time, I almost felt like I was suffering from a sort of withdraw. I needed that book and it wasn't there for me.

It's not just the books either. I love the music from Jane Eyre: The Musical (even with the awkward memories associated with it). Although I've never found a movie that I felt really captured the book well, I've seen multiple attempts. When it comes to Romeo and Juliet, my range is even broader. At least two operas, numerous films (both made for screen and filmed plays), and 3+ versions of the French rock opera by Gerard Presgurvic. Tonight, I finally saw one of those rock opera versions (the Hungarian) live. It was as if I had never heard/seen the story before.

This show has been running just shy of 7 years and some of the performers (Romeo, Lady Capulet, Lady Montague, The Prince, Tybalt, Lord Capulet) are still from the original cast. Even so, the show was fresh, the acting almost raw in places. That's the mark of a great performer: to give a performance for the ?00th time and make it seem like it's brand new. New insights for me: Romeo's smile when his friends berate him saying he had "no right" to act like he did at the ball - it was a boyish sure-maybe-you-have-a-point-but-it-doesn't-matter-because-I-love-her-way-too-much-to-care-what-you-think type of smile. Another insight was about the character of Tybalt. Although created for this show, giving Tybalt a back story actually made me feel bad for him. He loved Juliet and wanted to kill Romeo for destroying what he saw as his only chance for happiness. One of his songs also discussed the childhood he never really had and how his parents had raised him for violence. Even being familiar with the music, I hadn't realized this part of the story - and probably wouldn't have if there weren't super-titles in English!

One of the differences in this production - even from other versions of Presgurvic's show - is the tomb scene with the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. In Shakespeare's play, Romeo drinks poison and dies just as Juliet is waking up from her sleeping drug. In response to his death, she stabs herself with his dagger and dies. Contrastingly, in this version, Romeo straps Juliet to himself and then hangs himself. The jolt wakes her and, on realizing that Romeo is dead, she slits her wrists and bleeds to death. I couldn't help but wonder what it's like for the performers to do this scene. Of course there are safety measures taken - harnesses and the like - but I imagine it's still unnerving to step off the platform.

So, what is it about this story? Why do I love it so much? I suppose part of it is the same that draws me to any substantial love story. Curiosity. Is that anything like it really is? Will that happen for me someday? (Minus the dying right after my wedding bit) Is there a "Romeo" out there somewhere for me? What is it like to have someone say "Even if they kill me, I'm staying with you" and mean it?

Another part of why I love this story is the impossibility of it. There are so many things that could have changed it if they had only happened moments earlier or later. Had Benvolio left with the letter before hearing of the "death" of Juliet, Romeo would have arrived knowing she was only asleep. Why didn't Juliet just go with him to Mantua? What would have happened if Juliet refused to marry Paris and told her parents she was already married? Why didn't Romeo wait just a few more minutes before killing himself? That's the one that always gets me. Even though I know the story so well, every time I read/watch/listen to it, I am silently begging him to wait a minute or for Juliet to wake up a minute sooner. One of the best/worst (I can't decide which it is.. haha) things I've seen, is when Juliet wakes up just as Romeo takes the poison and they have that endless moment, both realizing exactly what is/will happen.

Favorite moments/lines in the show:
Balcony scene - Julia sings the first verse while Romeo listens, hidden. As she finishes, he shows himself. Embarrassed, she asks if he heard her. He responds, a little cheekily, "only a little" and proceeds to repeat the entire verse changing their names. After the song ends, they are talking:
Romeo - Give me your hand.
Julia - How many girls' hands have you already stolen?
Romeo - One. Here.
Julia - I want to be your wife.
Romeo - (nodding) My wife.
I just love how direct she is.

Romeo's Leaving - this scene is not rated PG, but then they DID just get married. One question.. why does Julia have animal furs on her floor rather than a bed? This is after the whole lark/nightingale bit, just as Romeo is climbing out the window
Julia - I became your wife.
Romeo - I'm glad.
It sounds better in Hungarian, the English looks/sounds a little silly... but that's the way things go. Guess I just need to find a Hungarian "Romeo" LOL

Ending - The song "Guilty" where the company gathers around the bodies of Romeo and Julia and sings about their guilt and that of the world ends with, and therefore ends the show with, a beautiful Picardy Third on the word "love."

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