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Tragic, young love in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Maya Phillips | 10/3/2013, 2:30 p.m.

Two young lovers, two warring families and a tale of ill-fated love, heartbreak and death: Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” has been performed, filmed, transformed and reinvented so many times that it is pretty damn near impossible to find a person who hasn’t encountered the classic tragedy in some form or another. The play has been reborn yet again on Broadway in the hands of five-time Tony-nominated director David Leveaux.

In the classic story, two families in Verona, Italy—the Montagues and the Capulets—are in the midst of a violent feud. At the beginning of the play, Romeo, a Montague, is heartbroken because of his infatuation with a girl named Rosaline, a Capulet. Romeo secretly attends a Capulet ball in the hopes of meeting Rosaline, but instead, he meets Juliet, another Capulet, and the two immediately fall in love.

The next day, the two are secretly married, but things turn sour when Romeo is drawn into a fight with Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, and kills him. As punishment for his crime, Romeo is exiled from Verona. Juliet’s parents, unaware that their daughter has secretly married the enemy, arrange for her to marry Count Paris. Juliet seeks the help of a friar, who gives her a drug that will put her into a temporary coma to fool her family members into thinking she has died. The friar offers to send a messenger to tell Romeo about the plan so that the lovers can be reunited after the announcement of Juliet’s “death.” However, the messenger never delivers the message. Romeo discovers the incapacitated Juliet in the tomb and, assuming she has actually died, drinks poison to join her in death. Juliet wakes up shortly after to find her dead lover, takes his dagger and kills herself.

This “Romeo and Juliet,” starring Orlando Bloom (“The Lord of the Rings,” “Pirates of the Caribbean”) and Condola Rashad (“The Trip to Bountiful”), provides an edgier, more urban take on the play. Details such as the graffiti-covered wall in the background and the costumes of the characters emphasize the vitality of youth in the play—and for good reason. “Romeo and Juliet,” while frequently lauded as a classic tale of romance and tragedy, is also simply a tale of foolish, reckless youth. The two protagonists are so quick to light the embers of their passion that they both get consumed by the flames—a fate that is constantly alluded to by the use of darkness and fire on the stage.

Rashad, who plays the 13-year-old Juliet, does a fabulous job at bringing this innocent, youthful energy to the stage. Wearing a simple, virginal white dress in her first scene, Rashad’s Juliet bounds across the stage without a care in the world, full of the naivety, drama, silliness and snark of a young girl. Rashad doesn’t just act as the lovelorn female; she understands the drama and humor of Juliet’s character and acts out Juliet’s dramatic teenage love with such sincerity so as to make the character more sympathetic and the ultimate conclusion more tragic.