Nature Theater of Oklahoma's Romeo and Juliet is one of the hotter tickets at TBA this year. Nature Theater's played at TBA before, and the premise of their 2010 offering—a show made up of poorly remembered retellings of Romeo and Juliet—seems to promise an irreverent but accessible approach to the canon.
In writing the show, Nature Theater asked their company members and others to try to recall the story of Romeo and Juliet, and used the transcripts as the basis for the script. In front of a proudly fake curtain, with tin cans standing in for stage lights, Nature Theaterians Anne Gridley and Robert M. Johanson take turns over-enunciating their way through monologues that hesitantly, hilariously, and usually downright incorrectly retell the tale of the two famously star-crossed lovers (two households, both alike in...fuck!).
The actors give their all to their material, aggressively emoting and reaching for extremes of Shakespearian ridiculousness even as they perform material that's quite repetitive. Most of the show's humor is found in the contrast between the flowery presentation style, a parody of classical theater—they are actorrrs—and the casual uncertainties of the script; even with the best efforts of the actors, though, all the repetition can get dull. Most everyone remembers that Romeo and Juliet were young people in Italy whose families didn't like each other, and that they died. (Details of the death scene, though, vary hilariously). The most engaging moments come when the monologues turn away from the story itself—one of Johanson's monologues devolves into a meandering bit about the power of tragedy to bring people together, insofar as it related to the death of Anna Nicole Smith and 9/11.
At the show's end, the two actors appear onstage together for the first time. They are no longer performing monologues; they are conversing, actors in character as actors who are out of character. The conversation turns "neediness," first in a romantic context and then in relation to the craft of acting itself. While it is clear that these actors have been doing their best to make us love them for the duration of this show—and were pretty successful, at least for me—it was not, and is not, clear to me how this connects with botched storyline they've been playing out over and over again. There is no such thing as a perfect union? Love seems new but totally isn't and the story of a love affair is only of interest to the people having it? I am human and I need to be loved? The metatextual questions of the show's preceding segment were more clear; the whole thing got me thinking about whether "Great Works" are really that great if they make so little an impression, and about how Shakespeare's work is channeled through one actor after another, who try to make it their own even as the words stay the same, and how it was funny to see that relationship reversed... I don't know. I'm still chewing on this show, obviously, still trying to find a way to make its pieces fit together. And maybe they don't. But I'm enjoying moving them around, so I guess that's something.