Love, Lust and Lots of Men in Dresses
The Bulgarian National Theatre Presents a Whole New Take on “Romeo and Juliet”
The Bulgarian National Theatre’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” was a night of rain-soaked, romantically charged drama. This stylish modernization of the classic love story used a combination of dark comedy and dance to create a portrait of love that existed outside of the boundaries of time or gender identity.
The play opened with two men mimicking each other’s actions, establishing the play’s theme of unity. Their precise movements were hypnotic and eerie, as if they were truly one person. A polka-dot-clad woman then took to the stage to tell the story of two young lovebirds who “expired.” After her dismissal, the audience was introduced to the story’s narrator. The phrase “one love” was repeated as the audience was presented with the androgynous, all-male production.
The basic costuming consisted of soft white fabric, which made the actors’ movements seem light and atmospheric. The “females” in the play wore teacup dresses as they flitted around on stage giggling and laughing. While it was easy to get lost reading the English translation of the Bulgarian dialogue, it was more interesting to watch the Bulgarian actors at work. There was an intensity to the performance that was created by the actors’ stoic expressions and flying spirit.
The actors’ physical features worked well with the radical retelling of the drama. There seemed to be some mystery behind each appearance. The play’s timing itself was a mystery, as it ditched typical chronological order in favor of a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards. Using this technique, the classic love story was turned into a modern scene of marital accusations, universal messages and hilarious wit.
Like any production of “Romeo and Juliet,” there had to be the infamous kissing scene. The characters did not actually kiss, instead leaving much to the audience’s imagination. Their bodies were barely touching as they tilted their heads toward one another. This staging allowed the audience to focus more on the emotional, rather than physical, tension. Nevertheless, a physical longing could be felt, suggesting that no matter how true their love was, the couple could never really be together.
This struggle continued throughout the play, as the characters dealt with the hardships caused by their families’ separation. Intimacy was created through dance-like movement. Many times the characters would be sitting back-to-back, switching positions to the rhythm of a passionate sequence of music. The characters were totally connected in movement, as if answering one another’s thoughts.
Nevertheless, Juliet was nowhere to be found during Romeo’s proclamation of love. Juliet was not standing on a balcony, sighing and ogling Romeo. Instead, Romeo was calling out his love to Juliet on a slick, silver microphone, periodically forgetting the words; the scene had a charming innocence to it.
This idea of human vulnerability and dependency was paramount to understanding the production. However, while the tragic suicide of the two lovers is normally a tearjerker, the death scene was full of incredibly hilarious banter. The lovebirds came up with the brilliant plan to commit suicide, asking for suggestions from one another. Suffocation… strangulation… you name it.
Finally, at the play’s climatic moment, the production finally presented the reason for the physical separation. After Juliet’s death scene, rain flooded the stage. The tearjerker ballad “Time Goes By So Slowly” filtered through the theater as Romeo and Juliet desperately tried to reach one another. The movement was tortuous, as they kept slipping and falling out of each other’s arms. The characters were trying to save each other and express their love, but the audience realized that it was too late.
After the tragic wrestling of the lovers, a line from the American horror flick “Scream,” played in the background, asking the audience, “Do you want to die tonight?” Then, out of nowhere, a celebratory dance sequence began. There was a scream and strobe lights flashed, changing the scene into revelry. The audience was quickly enveloped in a Bulgarian dance party, where the rain appeared to float in time as the actors danced merrily in the water. It was incredible.
Thanks to the unique staging and special effects of this particular version of “Romeo and Juliet,” it is clear that the play is, ultimately, just a fairy tale. However, it is a fairy tale with an important moral, as it teaches audience that life and death don’t matter; love is the only important thing.