Kitchen Dog has taken arguably the most famous--or at least, the most plundered--tragic love story of the English-speaking theater and turned it into a 120-minute, intermissionless actors' stunt. As it turns out, this benefits Romeo and Juliet without ennobling or improving it. You cannot best Shakespeare, because he is both too dense a visionary and too subject to plundering for aphorisms and epigrams. But too many directors, designers, and actors try (and fail) by their misguided concepts to modernize his linguistic mysteries.
Director Dan Day has turned to a primitive solution--severely pruned text spoken by four talented actors in plain dark costume, with each playing multiple roles. There are three pale, flowing intrusions on his caliginous vision: Long tresses of white sheet dangle from the MAC's high ceiling, and the performers either wrap themselves in the material or drape it over a platform to make love or commit suicide on. The female half of the quartet is the more immediately beguiling. Shelley Tharp as the clown-mouthed nurse earns the most laughs for her faux-coy machinations. Tina Parker manages to infuse a neurotic girlishness to Juliet and not obliterate the dialogue with self-indulgent tics. As an understanding of where adolescent desire and poetic inspiration intersect, hers is a rare modernization. Director Day last season miscast Chris Carlos in the title of Othello, and he commits a similar sin by shoehorning frowny-faced Lynn Mathis into the role of Romeo, and slighting Carlos as a chorus of supporting players. Middle-aged Matthis is too marmoreal, too stately in his thunderous vocal presentation to offer much vulnerability, while Carlos' gender-bent gentleness makes us fall for him the way we should for a confused lover like Romeo. Switch their line loads from one to the other, and you'd have a Romeo and Juliet whose refurbished minimalism truly startled you.