Theater Row in Hell’s Kitchen…and a bit ‘o the Bard
A co-worker alerted me to a new production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
So, I thought I ought to go. And when I heard who was doing it, I really knew I must, absolutely must, go.
It was TBTB, the acronym for Theater Breaking Through Barriers. It used to be called the Theater for the Blind. I’ve never seen any of their productions, but I figured it would be an interesting interpretation.
And it was. It was more than that. It was terrific. I’m not that fond of the play itself (I just don’t enjoy the storyline that much), but their production was nicely done. You see, they didn’t really play off the idea of the disabilities, but their real gimmick is that they were only going to have four actors playing all of the parts. That meant that each actor would handle eight or more rolls. And, on occasion, both rolls are on stage at the same time. Talking with each other.
And you ain’t seen nothing til you’ve seen a blind actor doing quick costume changes to talk with himself…and one of “himselves” is a woman. Kudos.
The show is at Theater Row in Hell’s Kitchen, 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. It is my favorite off-off-Broadway venue. It holds a number of separate smaller theaters (kind of a live theater multiplex) and this play was in The Kirk. It holds about 100 seats.
I could only tell disabilities in two of the actors, there was only one blind guy and one who has cerebal palsy. Another great part is that there was no quarter given to them on account of the disability. The actor with CP (Gregg Mozgala) had to jump about the stage in his role as Romeo. The blind actor had to wander the stage and pick up stuff at one point and sword fight at other points.
The Kirk’s inside before the beginning.
If you look carefully, you may see the wires across the stage floor. They were used as marks for the blind actor (George Ashiotis). When he did his switching of roles, it was great. He did conversations with his off-stage self and would go back and change during it.
But the best switching was done by the lone female (Emily Young). For a long conversation between Juliet and Paris (she playing both parts), she kept walking back and forth behind a barrier (just behind the small box at the center in the picture above) and putting up her hood to show that she was Paris, or down to show that she was Juliet. And she kept them straight. I think we were all at the edge of our seats waiting for a slip, but there was none.
And I say all of this and Nicholas Viselli and Emily Young are probably amazed/amused that I didn’t spot their disabilities (if they have any). But disabilities weren’t part of the play (although I kept hearing lines about blindness and light that I hadn’t noticed before). And that was the great thing. I went to the play expecting to have them put out the lights for a large portion of it to force the audience to “see” the play the way a blind person would, but got a straight-out production of Shakespeare that ignored any limitations.
Oh, and another gimmick that I liked was the idea that they kept putting up Southern and Western accents (and occasional other ones that didn’t work quite as well) into the play. No British accents, but American ones. (Viselli’s Texan Mr. Capulet was the best accent.)