nytheatre.com review by George Tynan Crowly
August 15, 2006
In Fatboy Romeo, director/adaptor Neal Freeman has put together a human-size puppet version of Romeo and Juliet, with chunks of verbatim Shakespeare, music, slide projections, and pop references galore, intending to make a point about modern consumption. While the show is often too manic and too pop-inclusive for its own good, the leading man is spot-on.
Embodied in a squat puppet whose enormous head hinges open to accommodate a likewise enormous appetite, this taciturn Romeo's melancholy never lifts; no, not when he meets Juliet nor when he marries her. His squinty puppet eyes are permanently shut-down, ever in search of yet another bag among the many bags of potato chips scattered about the stage. When Juliet tosses him a rose, he eats it. As designed and executed, Fatboy Romeo the puppet succeeds as a poignant stand-in for the deadening compulsions that motivate pop culture.
As for the rest: The two actors off to the side of the stage, Danielle Thorpe and Patrick Toon, reel off an impressive variety of character voices with talent, but because of the cartoonish speed of the proceedings, the effect is of an overall wash of Shakespeare-sound. As for Michael C. Malbrough's puppets, the stars of the show: Juliet has the pug nose, bugged-out eyes, velvet cap, and bountiful breasts of an overblown Brittany Spears. The fierce Tybalt is an X-Man fantasy monster. The Capulets are enormous heads, and Paris, funniest and most outrageous, seems an aging weightlifter from Venice Beach, with his own musical theme.
There's a nearly continual soundtrack of peppy music, and a pig-tailed child-actress (Emma Park-Hazel) whose self-consciously simpleminded comments keep us up with the plot ("The Friar has a sneaky plan"). Mercutio and the Nurse are pretty much gone, but there's an extended "Queen Mab" dream sequence accompanied by images of pseudo-sexy fashion models (the frequently witty, fluid projections are by Ann Bartek), and there's a cute number where Romeo swallows up enlarged, floating Valentine's day candies ("I LUV U"). The puppeteers (Kieran Kredell, Ryan Michael Jones, and Trisha Pfister) are indefatigable, dancing, crawling on their knees, squirting water into the audience to indicate Juliet's violent grief; all with intensity, modesty, and dedication.
But the piece itself is so busy that neither I nor the full-house of an audience did much actual laughing. This may change as the performers get a chance to run the show, but I found the mix of so many disparate elements exhausting. The text itself was often beside the point, and the overabundance of cleverness lacked the judicious, satiric aim which Freeman's program notes promised. It's particularly tricky to put so much around puppets, because the surrounding energy (and verbiage) often baffle the particular ability of puppets to express so much that is beyond words. Fatboy Romeo's final moments in Juliet's tomb, with no words and no music to distract, stood on their own as sad, silly, and satiric. More of that, please, Mr. Freeman. More of less.