Amanda Ochoa (Juliet), Valerie O'Hara (Nurse) and Amanda Renne Baker (Lady Capulet) in the Hudson Warehouse's "Romeo and Juliet".
They laid their scene not in fair Verona, but on the fair steps of the Soldier’s Patio in New York’s Riverside Park. Here, at the junction of 89th Street and Riverside Drive, the Hudson Warehouse – “that other free Shakespeare in the Park” – played their version of the Bard’s story “of no more woe than that of Juliet and her Romeo” against the backdrop of a setting sun, loud traffic and the occasional lost pedestrian. The audience was seated on the not-too-comfortable steps of the monument, and the location, though visually mesmerizing, placed the actors and the audience for a great challenge of (in)audibility. Yet, the Hudson Warehouse managed to create a performance that actually did overcome the shortcomings of open-air and urban theater. The first half an hour made one suspect to have found yet another proof that Americans just can’t do Shakespeare. Then, fortunately, Friar Lawrence stepped on stage, rendered as a fierce American army general in the tradition of Full Metal Jacket‘s R. Lee Ermey. From this point on, the directorial choices – the classic tale had been placed in the modern context of native Afghani versus American soldiers – started to make actual sense, after a first act of amateurish combat fights, inaudible actors and an unlucky jumble of costumes. Now, all the elements seemed to fall into place. Friar Lawrence, played by a spot-on Kelly King, managed to bridge the gap between ancient English speech and a modern-day context. The concept of weeping women – most notably by a truly hilarious performance of Valerie O’Hara as the Nurse – fitted perfectly in the suggested Islamic culture. Amanda Ochoa proved an intense and unexpectedly independent Juliet, rather neatly matched by George K. Wells, utterly believable in Romeo’s more vulnerable moments. The only things that still managed to hamper the performance were the torturing audience “seats”, a rather misplaced rendering of Mercutio by Tyler D. Hall and an uninteresting Prince (Jesse Michael Mothershed), and a sagging mid piece. Fortunately, these flaws diminished to a great extent by the play’s ferocious and gripping final scenes. As the passion of these star-crossed lovers slowly faded away on the steps of the Soldier’s Patio, one came to realize that some Americans actually are capable of delivering the Bard’s.
Amanda Ochoa and George K. Wells as the star-crossed lovers, J.C. and R.M.