I had high expectation of a TAU production of Romeo and Juliet. Last year, I attended the Theater dept.'s production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, and it was simply superb. While the troupe no doubt changed, I figured I can expect a competent treatment of Shakespeare's play.
I was bitterly disappointed. The production was simply atrocious! The text was translated by Dori Parnas, who's been translating plays for Israeli theaters quite well in recent years. This translation wasn't bad. There were occasional lines that rang false, and the meter was often changed to hexameter rather than the Shakespearean pentameter, but I don't mind that all that much.
Some of the casting and set choices were odd: a girl playing Mercutio, the complete removal of Montague, and very odd costumes, neither period nor modern. It's the acting that really ruined everything. The staging was odd, too: Juliet was scrubbing the floor at the Capulet ball rather than participating in it, and Benvolio was limping on a crutch. I can't imagine what they were thinking.
But it was the acting that really ruined the production. The actors were bad in several aspects: first of all, most of them obviously don't understand Shakespeare's text, even in the (rather everyday) Hebrew created by Parnas. They don't understand the tone and feel of the text, and they delivered it clumsily and with inapproriate emphases and intonations. They kept running about inexplicably, with spastic and rather unconvincing movements. They oddly burst out in song even when the play does not specify singing. Most seemed uncomfortable in their roles, and unsure of their actions. There was a lot of disrobing, too -- most of the male actors removed their tops again and again, often for no apparent reason. I mean, Lorenzo disrobes after finding Juliet weeping over Romeo in the crypt!
Romeo was well cast, and gave a credibly moody performance. He was really okay, except for a strange propensity for kissing random members of the cast. He kissed the dying Mercutio, for instance, on the mouth. Juliet was not bad at all, and her acting was reasonable. Juliet's maid was quite excellent, but not enough to correct the impression the rest of the cast made.
Capulet was unevenly played by an Arab actor and was completely comical, including inexplicably repeating some of his lines, on three occasions, in Arabic. After scolding Juliet for not agreeing to marry Paris, he repeated his speech in Arabic, and as he did, Juliet watched him blankly, and one could read in her expression things like: "Oh my, it's happening again" or "where's his medication?"
Now, the transposition of the Montague-Capulet enmity to Jewish-Arab enmity is an obvious artistic option, and was taken by several R&J productions in the past, but it was absolutely not done this time -- Capulet just spoke Arabic sometimes, and it had absolutely no counterpart in or relation to the rest of the production. Again, I can't imagine what the director or dramaturgist were thinking.
Mercutio was simply murdered by the actress(!) playing him, long before Tybalt dealt him the blow. She was tomboyish and completely overacted, misunderstood most of his clever lines, completely botched the Queen Mab monologue, and I was much relieved when Mercutio was finally slain.
When it was all over, during the applause, after bowing etc., Capulet's actor motioned the audience to be quiet and announced: "It's Romeo's birthday today!" and the entire cast burst into singing "Happy Birthday". It was Romeo's birthday, not the actor's, see? The entire cast scampered off the stage happily, and the mortified audience (well I was mortified!) could hear them still singing backstage. I mean, so much for tragic effect, eh?
Sigh. Avoid at all costs.
My mortification and disgust, however, provided no end of entertainment to arnulf, lilacsinmarch, and reneighssance, who watched the play with me. At least some fun came out of it...