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‘Romeo & Juliet: Love Is A Battlefield’ Offers A Night Of Montagues, Capulets, and…Benatar?

Julia Stier |
March 3, 2015 | 3:59 p.m. PST

Contributor

Ashley Argota, Peter Vogt, Julie Garnye, and Rustin Cole Sailors (Photo by Abel Armas)
Ashley Argota, Peter Vogt, Julie Garnye, and Rustin Cole Sailors (Photo by Abel Armas)
Who knew that the classic songs of Pat Benatar and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet were a match made in heaven? "Romeo & Juliet: Love is a Battlefield" finds it home at the Rockwell Table and Stage—a gem with a definite vibe—dark, cool, and chic. This trendy little venue draws quite the crowd—the cast of the hit series "The Fosters" was also in attendance opening night. With popular hits from the 80s pulsating overhead, and the names Montague and Capulet splashed on the walls, I was anticipating a rockin’ night. The performance exceeded my expectations.

The show opens with the band’s pianist, Brad Hook, performing a musical rendition of the “two houses, both alike in dignity” monologue. From that moment, the addition of music breathes new life into Shakespeare’s story. A street confrontation, to the tune of “Invincible (Hit Me With Your Best Shot)” introduces the principal characters of the show: Romeo (Rustin Cole Sailors), Juliet (Ashley Argota), Tybalt (Jeffrey Christopher Todd), Paris (Andrew Pirozzi), Mercutio (Joey Bybee), Benvolia (Jordan Kai Burnett), Nurse (Nicci Claspell), Father Capulet (Peter Vogt), Mother Montague (Julie Garnye), and the Friar (Jameson Moss).  A brawl breaks out between the youths of the House of Montage and the House of Capulet, and thanks to fight choreographer Joey Bybee, the action of the skirmishes flow so naturally that they come off as a dance, while losing none of their combative edge. 

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The script stays true to the original Shakespearean English, but holds its own amidst the rock songs and tough exteriors of the characters. The combination of music and language brings a new clarity to this timeless story. One of the most successful uses of Benatar’s songs is when Romeo and Juliet express their attraction for each by belting out “Heartbreaker” in each other’s faces— pushing each other up against walls and sharing steamy kisses. The performance is electric. Another moment of musical magic is the marriage of Romeo and Juliet, as Romeo gently sings “Shadows of the Night” to his bride-to-be. 

When it comes to the performance area, everything is fair game. In a flirtatious scene, Romeo and Juliet weave their way through the crowd, and Juliet hops up on, and starts strutting down, the restaurant’s bar. Though the venue provides a great atmosphere, because it’s not a typical stage, it does result in some seats with partially obstructed views. However, you can tell that the directors (Bradley Bredeweg and Kelley Parker) are cognizant of this fact, and play most of the scenes in the center of the space, visible to most of the crowd. 

The set itself (designed by Ben Soldate) is simple as to not interfere with the choreography (USC alum Chris Downey and Joey Bybee) and movement of the actors. Costuming (Bradley Bredweg) serves not only to establish different familial affiliations, but also sets the vibe for the show. This is not 16th century Venice, to be sure! The Montagues appear in military-esque blues, greens, and grays, with each member of the family bearing a giant star tattoo. The Capulets are decked out in reds, blacks, and leather, each sporting a crescent moon tattoo. The Friar, to show his unity with both families, bears the marks of both houses. 

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Huge congratulations to the Executive Producers, Kate Pazakis and Bradley Bredeweg, as well as the R+J Band—Brad Hooks (piano), Sari Mellafe (guitar), Mark Concuan (Drums), and Emily Rosenfield (bass)— for delivering a riveting, sexy Shakespeare show. 

This is the perfect event for date night, or girl’s night, or really any night. "Romeo and Juliet "remakes are not a new thing; there are a multitude of different versions, from Baz Luhrmann’s "Romeo + Juliet," to the musical "West Side Story." What makes "Romeo & Juliet: Love is a Battlefield" stand out from the rest is its use of Pat Benatar’s angry, empowering anthems to expose the story’s raw sensuality. The lyrics correspond with the emotion and plot of the story so well, you could swear they were originally written for the show. Benatar’s music provides the perfect soundtrack to a whirlwind love, and makes you want to find one of your own! If you’ve never been a Shakespeare, or Pat Benatar, fan, you will be after this show. 

"Romeo & Juliet: Love is a Battlefield" plays through March 28 at the Rockwell Table and Stage (1714 N. Vermont, Los Feliz). Tickets are $20-$45. For more information visit Rockwell-LA.com

Contact Contributor Julia Stier here

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