by Neil Morris
THEATRE IN THE PARK / RALEIGH—The 1930s quasi-gangland setting for Theatre In The Park's presentation of Romeo & Juliet allows for certain production latitudes. For example, it isn't often that the playbill for Williams Shakespeare's most famous play contains the following disclaimer: "This production contains cigarette smoke." But, smoke it does, as Evan Rachel Wood graced the stage alongside her father, brother and a terrific cast during the Saturday afternoon, May 16, performance I attended, the second of six sold-out shows that conclude on Tuesday, May 19.
Despite the change in milieu, the play's characters and prose remains largely untouched. Its tragic underpinning still packs a wallop, even if the Bard's comic repartee now often flies by on anachronistic wings. Noteworthy performances among the supporting cast include Shaw University grad Rasool Jahan as the Nurse, Theatre mainstay David Henderson's seamless rendering of Friar Laurence, and Matthew Rubolino's Benvolio. And, Ira David Wood IV—who also directs—more than embraces the scene-chewing role of Mercutio.
While musical accompaniment is expectantly minimal, several additions by director Wood left me scratching my head. During the famous Balcony Scene, the familiar and somewhat incongruous strains of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" are heard in the background. Later, Ennio Morricone's Death Theme from The Untouchables plays during the death of Mercutio.
But, Evan Rachel Wood is the production's star from the moment she first appears as Juliet. Her's is not the most polished or showy performance. But, she exudes star quality, her radiant red hair, alabaster skin and lithe physique commanding the stage, whether she gleefully prances about in the throes of love, laments the loss of Romeo, or, yes, smokes. The unquestioned show-stopper, however, comes when Wood's Juliet croons a rendition of the 1930's standard "My Funny Valentine," which held an enchanted audience on the edge of its collective seat.
The mercurial history of the Wood family—including the strained relationship between Evan and her locally renowned father, Ira David Wood III—is well-documented. This onstage reunion is partly an effort to continue their fence-mending. So, more than a few knowing chuckles were heard in the audience when Wood III's Lord Capulet celebrates daughter Juliet's willingness to finally obey her father and marry Paris by exclaiming, "My heart is wondrous light, since this same wayward girl is so reclaimed."
Of course, remember that Juliet was pulling the wool over her father's eyes.