Ampersand: A Romeo & Juliet Story
nytheatre.com review by Montserrat Mendez
August 12, 2011
Mariah MacCarthy’s Ampersand: A Romeo and Juliet Story is a messy, unfocused new play with music that tackles a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. In this case both Romeo and Juliet are young women from the wrong side of the tracks.
It has laughs, it has some good performances, one super catchy song, and it has a good concept behind it. Unfortunately it does not feel ready for an audience. The book is over-written, the characters not fully fleshed out, and the direction is nearly non-existent. Though I am sure that everyone has worked really hard on this play (for nearly two years, according to the note in the program), it feels like it needs editing and focusing, taking into account the needs of the audience who will be watching it.
The story revolves around two girls, from the Capulet and Montague families, whose mothers are running to be Mayor of Verona. The girls hate each other at first, but somehow, they meet at a party and manage to fall madly in love, get married, ruin each other’s lives, have sex, sing songs.
Aspects of the writing seem taxing or just careless. For example, we see Romeo kill Tybalt, after she sees her friend Mercutio being killed; we are treated to a dramatically impotent scene in which Romeo recounts the events, almost as they were staged. Why does the audience need to be given the same information twice? Or another example: Juliet also has a boyfriend, Paris, who goes from being a twerp, to a dangerous abusive boyfriend, to a twerp who couldn’t hurt a fly again—all seemingly based on what the playwright needs in the scene, as opposed to what this person organically would or would not do.
The cast does its very best. Lauren Hennessy is top-notch as Romeo, and Brigitte Choura as Juliet has a movie star quality that just draws your eye to her. Their scenes together, even though overwritten, have chemistry that is largely due to the excellence of their acting. Craig Hanson as Tybalt is cool, calm and dangerous; Jordan Tierney as Mercutio has a vulnerable, really touching quality; and Matt Welsh as Evelyn Montague has that great acting ability that make you feel his emotions with just a look, a sigh or a body pose. These are all great actors. They deserve a better-developed script to work with.
The music by Brian Kirchner and the lyrics by MacCarthy are awesome, with one song in particular, “Star-Crossed Lover,” having a top 40 pop hit quality. I would download this song on iTunes in an instant. In the music and lyrics, the show's creators give us a glimpse at what they are trying to achieve (and capable of achieving).
In the end, there’s something here. There is a kernel of something waiting to be shaped and given life. Unfortunately, it will not be seen at this year’s FringeNYC Festival. There needs to be clarity, focus, emotional truth in the storytelling and regard for the audience. It’s two-and-a-half hours. It doesn’t need to be that long. It could easily lose forty-five minutes. And I hope it does, and I hope they keep working at it.