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"It's revealing the play as being as direct and present as Shakespeare was when he wrote it because plays like this, particularly this one, carry a weight of cliché about them, which has been built up over the years. A lot of that is 19th century in the sense that they think of the plays as being slightly soppy. What Shakespeare wrote were people living in a period when death was just around the corner. They had to sieze life urgently. So it's really about restoring the play's urgency, and from that, comes his clarity. People coming to this play may be coming to Shakespeare for the first time — a lot of young people are coming — so I was conscious that they need to see the connection with this language because it is the way Shakespeare wrote it.
"There's something about doing it on Broadway that is completely right. This is the best audience in the world to tell this story to. I knew we had to get it out of tights — out of the whole Elizabethan cliché of that — but I can't think of a better city to tell this story in. The great thing about Broadway is that it makes everything have a kind of urgency. It's right that Shakespeare's plays should be tested this way. To me, this is the most Elizabethan way you can do the play — to do it here on Broadway. I think it's close to the sensation of what it must have like for Shakespeare to do it in the Globe in those days when, by the way, people were ruthless, including his critics."
Next on Leveaux's agenda is a quantum leap into the computer age. "There's talk of doing Patrick Marber's play, Closer, in London. It hasn't been done for a while. I'm very keen to do that." And his next Juliet will be Juliette Binoche. "She and I are talking about doing a project together, and we're thinking about doing it on Broadway."
Brent Carver, the Canadian actor who collected a Tony for Kiss of the Spider Woman and a Tony nomination for Parade, is seeing Romeo and Juliet through a pair of new eyes: Friar Laurence's.
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"I played Romeo years and years and years ago — 30 years ago — but you never know how it's going to turn out, particularly with Shakespeare. Every time you do the play, it seems like a totally new play, no matter how many times you do it. I've played Hamlet a couple of times, and it was the same thing. The second time I did Hamlet, I went, 'Is this the same play I did before?'"
Jayne Houdyshell has drawn Nurse duty before in Romeo and Juliet. "It was at a summer theatre in Petersburg, New Hampshire about 15 years ago," she recalled. "We did the whole play, uncut, with full-period regalia and accents. I much prefer this one, I think because of its cleanliness. It's pared down. A lot of cutting was done to the script so it flies. The story is very clear and to the point, and, because we can attack it with so much speed, it has a kind of life that I love. I really love it."
That ill-fated hothead, Mercutio, is aggressively advanced by Christian Camargo, who is clearly having a ball with the character. "I love the freedom of this character," he admitted. "You can go up, you can go down, you can go street-smart, you can go highbrow — it's got everything. It's the kind of character I just love to play and don't get a chance to do very much. The last Shakespeare I did was The Tempest. I played Ariel, and it was a fun kind of role, but it didn't have this kind of crazy freedom."
It was at the rehearsals of The Tempest that Camargo found his own Juliet — Juliet Rylance — playing Miranda. She once told a Post reporter it was "love at first sight. I walked in the room, saw him and thought 'Oh, there you are.'" She later told her husband she thought it was unromantic, but he contends that it's the most romantic thing he ever heard. And he's right. It's a sentiment worthy of a Sondheim song.
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