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A CurtainUp DC Review
Romeo and Juliatric

by Dolores Whiskeyman
Phil Sawicki and Rusty Clauss

Any theatre company whose stated mission is to bring the "psychotronic, B-movie aesthetic" to the stage can't be expected to put much stock in anything approaching talent. 

So it should come as no surprise that Romeo & Juliatric, Cherry Red Productions' latest world premiere, is a morass of bad acting, corny writing, clumsy dancing, lame special effects -- including the requisite spurting blood -- and cheesy design. 

Once again, Cherry Red does itself proud. 

Judging by the enthusiasm of its audience, Cherry Red might just have a hit on its hands -- but then, anyone attracted to the company's peculiar dramaturgy probably can't be categorized with most of the theatre-going public. 

It all puts me in mind of a book review once written by Abraham Lincoln, before he made it big in politics. "For people who like this kind of book," Lincoln wrote, "this is the kind of book they will like."

Much the same can be said for this play. But Cherry Red does an injustice to B movies by suggesting that this play fits into the same category. The acting was much better in B movies. 

Written and directed by Anton Dudley, Romeo & Juliatric reframes Shakespeare's lovers as octagenarians whose romance is thwarted by their " millionaire yuppie shithead grandkids". It's a promising idea -- but it fails to play out in any meaningful way, mainly because the premise is so thin. It's enough to support a five-minute skit on Saturday Night Live or MAD TV, but a two-and-a-half-hour parody? Methinks not. 

The most successful sequences are those in which Dudley mocks the Leonard Bernstein/Arthur Laurents/Stephen Sondheim spin on R&J -- West Side Story. The masquerade/high school gym dance -- in which Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time -- is hilarious. Likewise, the rumble in Pentagon City mall comes off a bit like Benny Hill on crack. And when Romeo finally knocks off Tybalt -- transgendered in this version to Cyball-Buster -- he is banished, not to Padua, but to a retirement home in Delaware. 

And Dudley has his own moments of high silliness. Witness this exchange between Juliet and Romeo: 

"You kiss by the book!"

"Which one?"

"Sex tips for straight women by a gay man."

For the most part, however, the production is sorely compromised by the limitations of the company. While Dudley's mostly amateur cast seems to be having a good time, their enthusiasm fails to compensate for the lack of technique. Some of the actors are simply impossible to understand. They can hardly get the words out -- swallowing lines, stumbling over the Shakespearean language that Dudley has used too liberally -- and singing off-key. 

The notable exception is the very watchable Paul Menard -- as Todd -- a fey version of Mercutio. Menard takes the stage -- and keeps it -- not necessarily a good thing, considering that he plays such a minor character. Like Menard, Soledad Campos as the Nurse and Tony Greenberg as Friar Schmuck set themselves apart by finding a character amid the camp -- and all three carry off the Shakespearean riffs fairly well. 

The same cannot be said of the two principals. Phil Sawicki as Romeo and Rusty Clauss as Juliet both seem to think that the goofy premise alone substitutes for a performance. Neither can make sense of most of the dialogue; they simply say their lines with as much investment as one would give to a grocery list. 

It seems that Cherry Red is attempting to do for Washington theater what the late, great Charles Ludlam did for New York's -- using the Ridiculous Theatrical Company to skewer pomposity in all its forms. Ludlam broke new ground when he borrowed heavily from classic texts to create his own brand of lunacy, but he didn't get lost in the lampoon. He was also a supreme performer -- a female impersonator so adroit that he successfully carried off a performance in Hedda Gabler -- as Hedda Gabler. 

Here, Dudley is drowning in his own conceit. One must applaud his declared ambition to take on our youth-obsessed, money-obsessed culture -- and to satirize the tendency of theater companies to recast Shakespeare in contemporary terms. But he follows Shakespeare's storyline so closely -- and rips off the Bard's poetry so much --- that he never advances beyond the sophomoric. Unlike Ludlam, Dudley has not fashioned an original work from the borrowed elements of classic works. He simply parodies the original -- and variations on the original -- without ever really getting to the point. The result is a production that looks and sounds like a knock-off on the bill of a bad high school talent show. 
Written and directed by Anton Dudley

With Kevin Blomstrom, Soledad Campos, Rusty Clauss, Tony Greenberg, Christine Herzog, Jason Huber, Paul Menard, Richard Renfield, Stacey Russell, Phil Sawicki and Melanie Tatum
Costume Design: Augustine VanDoppelganger
Sound Design: Lucas Zarwell
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, including one intermission
A production of Cherry Red Productions
Metro Café, 1522 14th St., N.W. (202) 675-3071 
Web Site:
Opened Sept. 1, closes Oct. 14, 2000 
Reviewed by Dolores Whiskeyman Sept. 4 based on a Sept. 1 performance 

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