Having witnessed countless Shakespearean takeoffs that were both intentionally funny (e.g., the Reduced Shakespeare Company) and unintentionally funny (a country-western version of Romeo and Juliet comes painfully to mind), my expectations were uncertain for Romeo and Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending. Yet the ability of theatre to surprise, astound, and amuse is again demonstrated by this charmingly hilarious production.
The conceit of the show is that Romeo begins Rome and Juliet loving Rosaline so the outcome is hardly inevitable. What if Romeo had made different choices? At three times during the play Romeo asks the audience to vote to determine his next move among two options. Thus, the play could have eight different endings, six of which are comedies and two of which end tragically (including the original plot).
At the opening performance it was clear the audience was eager to explore its options. The vote was nearly unanimous to have Romeo pursue Rosaline instead of Juliet, although the next two votes were both near even splits. This review won’t comment any further on the plot other than to say the choices resulted in a raucous romantic comedy.
The farcical tone to the show is established early on when we meet a pining Romeo, a flamboyant Mercutio, and a bumbling Benvolio. Mercutio, “a famous (female anatomical reference) chaser”, encourages Romeo to sneak into the party at the Capulet home with him, stating that he’s tired of Romeo’s “melancholy bulls—t.” While Benvolio fears running into Tybalt (who once made him eat his own pair of pants), the young men decide to go in disguise wearing fake moustaches that look better suited for Mr. Potato Head. Of course, how the evening progresses will depend upon whether people make terrible choices (cue the group stare at the audience).
The combination of modern language and sentiment expressed in iambic pentameter is a funny gimmick, especially when Rosaline’s blooming love is betrayed by her rhyming couplets. Yet beyond the language, this production wedges in more bits of inspired comic business than most comedies twice its length. Director Ann Fraistat takes a clever script she co-wrote with her brother Shawn and elevates it further through her ingenious staging and bits of frenetic action.
Given the fact that the actors will not know which version will be performed until each choice is made, their performances of this cast are remarkably facile and self-assured. While Jayme Bell comes close to stealing the show as both Mercutio and a lascivious Nurse obsessed with “man rumps,” the entire company is consistently top-notch. Kyra Corradin makes an amusingly lovesick Juliet and Matt Sparacino demonstrates his versatility in four different roles.
Both this script and this show deserve continued success at the Capital Fringe Festival and beyond. Consistent with the tone of the show, I command you to “Get thee to a punnery” and see Romeo and Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending.
Romeo and Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending
Written by Ann and Shawn Fraistat
Directed by Ann Fraistat
Presented by The Impressionable Players
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Running time: 75 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?