On a deliberately cheap stage (footlights made from soup cans, lavish curtains painted on canvas), two actors are currently performing what is probably the most unique twist on Romeo and Juliet in history. The script is not Shakespeare's; it's derived from hours of recorded telephone conversations of people recounting what they remember about the play, which most haven't revisited since high school. In the telling, new characters are created (like Euristhepiss, Romeo's flamboyent friend), the poetry is mangled (Where DOTH my Romeo? Juliet is the sky, and I am the sun!"), and gaps in recollection are filled with inspired invention. Digress, memory!
The result is a delirious exploration of remembrance and imagination's constant pas de deux. Alternating monologues are ingeniously performed by Anne Gridley and Robert Johanson, who trade off their time upon the stage until a final scene brings them together for a convoluted dialogue on love, lust, Shakespeare and artistic honesty. (There are two other major surprises—a daffy one in the middle and a sublime one the end—which I won't spoil here.) The text documents every awkward laugh, um, uhhh, and hm from the phone calls, turning colloquial American slang into heightened, hilarious poetry.
I doubt what I've just described does justice to the giddy joy that comes with your ticket to this Romeo & Juliet. Johanson, dressed in ridiculous tights, shoes, and ruffled blouse, delivers his monologues with hilarious, wild-eyed intensity that somehow avoids the pitfall of tired "Master Thespian" cliches. And Anne Gridley, who was also so fascinating in No Dice, is simply one of the funniest actors in New York City. Her flamboyant gesticulations are perpetually interrupted with the panicked facial contortions of someone desperately afraid of being outed as a philistine for not knowing her Shakespeare. I can't get enough of her.
And you should make haste on your, uhhhh, fiery steed to buy tickets to this production, the latest idiosyncratic triumph from Nature Theater of Oklahoma, which presented the stellar Rambo Solo earlier this year. This is one of the greatest theater companies in New York, if not the world. As Kafka wrote about his fictional Nature Theater of Oklahoma, "accursed be anyone who doesn't believe us!"
Romeo and Juliet continues at The Kitchen through January 16th. Tickets cost $20.