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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 17, 2006

'Capulet' charged visually, loses vocally

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser

Ryan Sutherlan is Romeo, left, and Nicole Brilhante plays Juliet in "Femme Capulet," a modern take on the plot of "Romeo and Juliet."

Photo by Tony Pisculli

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In "Femme Capulet," the gratuitous sex and violence are the best parts.

The play is Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," deconstructed and remixed by Troy Apostol and Shen Nissan Sugai and presented as an off-season production by the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival at The ARTS at Marks Garage.

It runs backward, in a strip club.

The strip club also called Femme Capulet, and overseen by Juliet's mother gives the play its sexual charge, with nearly naked girls gyrating against brass poles. Violence bubbles close to the surface as the clients, the bouncers and the dancers all pack weapons.

The concept neatly underscores the underlying themes of Shakespeare's original, although tough chicks with push-up bras, false eyelashes and stiletto heels are a world away from the Elizabethan mode. Where Shakespeare's Juliet was an impetuous but unworldly child-woman of 14, "Femme Capulet" has her hustling drunks for tips.

Playing the story backward means the lovers' double suicide comes first de-emphasizing it, but setting up the rest of the story as a retrospective search for meaning. Looking at a familiar story through pieces out of sequence could be an illuminating exercise. But, with one exception, the flashbacks selected by Apostol and Sugai neither create something new nor add insight to something old.

The single scene that truly grabs and holds the audience is Mercutio's "Queen Mab" soliloquy, designed to lift Romeo out of his lovesick melancholy: "If love be rough with you, be rough with love."

But in the world of "Femme Capulet," Mercutio is a whip-wielding woman (Marissa Robello) in a black bustier, and the speech says something about the cost of earning a living in a smoke-filled bar. It gets extra punctuation from a menstrual cramp that knocks her flat on her back.

The strip-club scene also creates a delightful side note to the familiar lines of the balcony scene, when Romeo's "would that I could touch that cheek" is delivered as he tries to slip a dollar bill into Juliet's bikini panties.

Tony Pisculli's fight choreography vies with the abundant female flesh for audience attention. Tybalt's and Mercutio's death scenes are back-to-back studies in violence clearly inspired by televised professional wrestling. Realistic bashing, slashing, grimacing and grunting come to a climax when everyone still standing simultaneously reaches for a gun.

But while the production staff have created stunning visual effects, they have sadly neglected the word. And in any play with rich dialogue, the word must come first. Without it, nothing much can be made.

"Femme Capulet" mangles the Shakespearian dialogue. Ryan Sutherlan's Romeo and Nicole Brilhante's Juliet may look like mall rats, but they should not be permitted to sound like them.

Romeo shouts and mumbles through the dialogue, swigging all too often from his hip flask. Juliet's wide-eyed interpretation suggests that she has come face-to-face with iambic pentameter and backed away in confusion.

Stu Hirayama and Hester Kamin are more intelligible as Friar Laurence and Lady Capulet, while M.J. Gonzalvo plays the Nurse with an outrageous accent, primarily for laughs.