A bit of Foreplay

"Benovolio & Rosalina," directed by Redbad Klynstra at the Rozmaitosci Theater in Warsaw is Romea & Julia who've been through a lot. The pair of second tier characters from Shakespeare's play, having survived the deadly romantic catastrophe of the most famous lovers in the world, find themselves anew after many years of mundane, day to day life.

The play, like its' characters, has also been through a lot. The premiere was planned prior to the summer vacation of 2005, under a completely different title ("The Reawakening of Julia). It was supposed to combine Shakespeare's tragedy with Wedekind's text "Reawakening of Spring." In the current version, Szymon Wroblewski has deconstructed and redone Shakespeare's text.

Additional dramaturgical "surgery" was necessitated by the fact that it is hard to believe in Shakespeare's texts today. How is it possible to make the story of the Lovers from Verona a true-to-life story, a modern story, how to retell it to young lovers of the modern age in a way that would make them see themselves rather than old dusty figures taken out of a museum? How, in the end, are people supposed to escape from false theatricalism which for Redbad Klynstra is simply unacceptable, just as it is unacceptable for all 'new theater?'

The whole stage is decorated in plastic, short blades of grass that glimmers in almost neon green. On the right hand wall, some stage scenery depicting a summer sky with artificial lighting. When they are lit - it is day, when they die down - it is night. The sky also shines at night; and a red fire hydrant protrudes from the green grass, as though the water within it were to be used to dull the fires of the senses that overcomes the lovers and their enemies.

To the side of the stage, a telephone booth. This is where one call their parents, and Laurente's father. This is where Romeo and Julia make their pledges of marital fealty, and this is where Julia will fall into a slumber after having used the elixir given her by Laurente's father. There are many more such features.

Klynstra has chosen to almost ignore the subject of the quarrel between the Monte and Capulet families. In fact, the reasons as to why the love of Romeo and Julia cannot be fulfilled are not important. Perhaps it is not so much that a family quarrel is at fault as the immaturity of each of the lovers? In consequence, the parents are not in the cast, apart from the mother - though she is merely an unheard voice in the telephone booth.

The play is divided into two portions; one of them sees the meeting of Benvolia and Rozalina after many years. The unfulfilled couple are now very mature lovers played by Maria Maj and Zdzislaw Wardejn.

The action on the stage is not retrospective with regard to the aging Benvolia and Rozalina, but rather a re-enactment of Shakespearian form insofar as action and love are concerned. The nine young heroes, five boys and four girls, might as well each have one another's roles. They are all residents of a big city. They are made shy due to their sudden adulthood, and cannot cope with their new sexuality; they believe themselves immortal because they cannot cope with the concept of death as well. All the boys and girls are rather homogenous; they dress identically, they even have the same shoes which no doubt are in fashion at the moment.

Julia (played by Agnieszka Podsiadlik) has rich parents and a low, manly voice. Her friend is deaf-mute. Rozalina (Anna Nykowska) is the most beautiful. Marta (Daria Widawska) is about to lose her youthful grace and become a woman. The most serious of the boys is Tybalt (Krzysztof Zych). He practices martial arts along with Parys (Jakub Kamieński). Whenever he manages to hit his opponent, the theater is filled with a violent electronic sound as though the fighters were in a computer game. Mercucio (Jakub Snochowski) is the least attractive of the bunch, perhaps because he's the most stylized. He betrays his homosexual inclinations; he is unable to resist the charms of his friends. Along with Benvoli (Rafał Maćkowiak) the two make for a pair of trouble makers who feel that like is one big joke. As for Romeo (played by two actors; Piotr Polk and Piotr Łukasczyk); he's a regular boy not too good looking, and always flashing his love filled eyes before us.

In the beginning, particularly during the ball, the young act as though they were in club. The girls walk like models. Obviously these days one has to be capable of being trendy; it's the best method for being socially accepted. However, this insincere behavior vanishes quickly. When the girls find a moment alone, they innocently put on their yellow-green pantyhose (each has the same kind); this scene loosens everyone up. Now begins the young people's fore play.

The most beautiful thing to take place on stage is the youthful grace of the young actors; which is effectively utilized by the director. The ball is masterfully performed, which is somewhat of a half-way between a club and a rich person's private party (one can see that Julia obviously does indeed have rich parents). The scene quickly moves the characters from euphoria to a state of hung over disparage.

Klynstra stages the balcony scene with equal bravado. Julia is no where to be seen, she is walking on the balcony above the heads of the audience. All one can hear is her broken, sore voice, which becomes warmer as Julia speaks of Romeo and becomes unpleasant when she yells "wait!" to the people calling her from within the house. Julia's shadow befalls Romea and touches his face softly. Ultimately, Romeo is befallen by a state that only pompous low budget romantic movie music is able to illustrate the ironic content of his mind and soul.

Beautiful, modern pictures created without theatrical mannerisms, well balanced between irony and melodrama, coupled with the battle waged by the young against Shakespeare's text in Jerzy Sita's translation. This is a kind of struggle where a variety of methods are used against Shakespeare. At times, diction is made hyper-correct, displaying just how unnatural such speech sounds in contemporary theater. Such examples gain a high mindedness that lifts the characters as well. Other times, we see how the play portrays the duality of Shakespeare's texts.

The struggle with the Shakespearian text perfectly reflects the struggle with the Shakespearian subject. On the one hand, we have the attempt to explore the emotional state of two innocent lovers, and on the other hand the specter of modernity storms into all of this, along with its' dynamism and pomp (thanks to Wróblewski's text) which depending on how the actors perform sound either more modern or even like a type of betrayal of Shakespeare.

I have the impression that in Klynstra's beautiful play Shakespeare takes what is his and refuses to give ground to the interpretive efforts of the director and the young playwright. Bringing Benvolia and Rozalina to the fore front, showing them as young yet aging people, does not fully pass the test. This is because of the melodramatic nature of Wróblewski's text, full of words without content, which quickly lose against Shakespeare's rich prose. But who knows whether it is not the melodrama which is the worse aspect of it all?

The play also lacks an idea for the scenic treatment of the lead characters. They are placed in such a way as to leave no doubt that what we see is all being filtered through their consciousness - and this is a very conventional method. It does not fit well with the clean, disillusioned theater that Redbad Klynstra otherwise presents us here. This is his first attempt at Shakespeare; perhaps we can treat is as a bit of fore play.


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