‘Romeo and Juliet’ set for Bryant Park Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” exquisitely pleads for similar and neighboring peoples to stop killing each other for reasons they no longer remember.

In The Drilling Company’s production for Bryant Park Shakespeare, to be presented July 17 to August 2, 2015, the play will be set in a modern city which is divided by wealth and class. Directed by David Marantz, it aims to send a clear message about the violence that can result from social division and corporate greed.

In Marantz’s “contemporary” version of Verona, the city is dominated by religion and divided between rich and poor. Everybody carries weapons openly, which leads to fighting on the streets. Capulet industries, run by Juliet’s wealthy, conservative family, is running the town. Romeo hails from a different wealthy family that funds social activism; they run the Montague Center for Social Justice.

Class conflict has created a modern dystopia from which the two lovers want to flee. Such a milieu enables some innovative character choices, for example, Mercutio is no longer just a hothead. Played by a woman, the character will be transformed into an impulsive firebrand activist. Tybalt is Head of Security for Capulet Industries. In the balcony scene, Romeo must overcome the video surveillance that protects the wealthy.

RJ cast
Ivory Aquino as Juliet and Andrew Gombas as Romeo. Photo by Maia SaccaSchaeffer.

For this production, the performing area is on the Bryant Park Stage, which is across the park from the Upper Terrace Steps, at the Fountain Terrace near Sixth Avenue, with audience on the gravel and lawn. As always, admission is free, nearby food kiosks serve affordable meals, capacious rest rooms are close at hand and seating on bistro chairs is guaranteed for everyone. Best of all, there is no waiting in line for tickets.

The Drilling Company, known for its intrepid, bare-boned Shakespeare in the Parking Lot productions, made its Bryant Park debut last spring with “Hamlet,” the inaugural production of Bryant Park Shakespeare. This year, the troupe has been invited back for a three-show season. It performed “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” set in New York’s Little Italy, May 15 to 31 directed by Hamilton Clancy. It will perform “The Taming of the Shrew” September 4 to 20, directed by Alessandro Colla.

Andrew Gombas plays Romeo and Ivory Aquino plays Juliet. The cast also includes Robert Agis as Balthasar, McKey Carpenter as Tybalt, Elowyn Castle as the Nurse, Robert Cordell as Apothecary, Anwen Darcy as Mercutio, James Davies as Capulet, Tori Ernst as serving woman, Jonathan Eric Foster as Friar Lawrence, Skyler Gallun as Benvolio, Ziv Gidron as Paris, Geoffrey Grady as Montague, Tygar Hicks as Lady Montague/Chorus, Mary Linehan as Prince and Carolyn Popp as Lady Capulet. Costume design is by Lisa Renee Jordan. Set design is by Jennifer Varbalow.

David Marantz (Director) is Associate Artistic Director of The Drilling Company, where he has been an actor and director since 2002. He has appeared in seven Shakespeare in the Parking Lot productions when he played Thurio in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Mercutio “Romeo and Juliet,” Sir Toby Belch and Malvolio in Twelfth Night,” Falstaff in “Merry Wives of Windsor” and Lucio in “Measure for Measure.” He has directed five new works for The Drilling Company, but this is his first tiem directing Shakespeare. He has performed around New York and the country, as well as on TV and film. He was co-producer, actor and director for the webseries “Off Off” (www.offoffwebseries.com). He has narrated over 60 audiobooks for Audible.com.

Andrew Gombas (Romeo) played Valentine in the recent production in Bryant Park of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” His regional credits include “Cymbeline” (Ohio Shakespeare Company), “Cock, a Civil War Christmas” (Dobama Theater), “Iphigenia 2.0, Inquietude” (Cleveland Public Theater), and “Seminar” (Beck Center). He spent two years with Great Lakes Theater teaching and performing Shakespeare in North East Ohio and has toured and performed extensively as a musician and storyteller

Ivory Aquino (Juliet) is a company member of The Drilling Company and The Bats (at The Flea Theater) and was a founding company member of Leviathan Theatre Lab. Her Shakespeare in the Parking Lot producions include “Othello” (Desdemona), “Julius Caesar” (Marc Antony), “Measure for Measure” (Isabella) and “Henry V” (Katherine). With Leviathan Lab’s Shakespeare Quartet Project, she has appeared in “As You Like It” as Rosalind. Her other Off-Broadway credits include Ma-Yi Theatre’s “365 Days/365 Plays” at The Public Theater.

Bryant Park Corporation (BPC), a private not-for-profit company, was founded in 1980 to renovate, finance and operate Bryant Park, one of the busiest public spaces in the world, without government or philanthropic funding. In addition to providing security and sanitation services, and tending the lawn and seasonal gardens, BPC creates amenities and activities in Bryant Park for over 6 million visitors each year. BPC’s website, www.bryantpark.org, has more detailed information plus a complete schedule of upcoming free events, activities, and programs. BPC invites New Yorkers and visitors to Midtown Manhattan to experience live theatrical productions of Shakespeare plays, as well as the NYC summer traditions of HBO/Bryant Park Summer Film Festival and Broadway in Bryant Park.

The Drilling Company, producer of the event, is well known as the producer of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, a series of free Shakespeare productions that have been presented on the Lower East Side for over 20 years. (The Drilling Company began co-producing Shakespeare in the Parking Lot in 2002 and became its exclusive producer in 2005.) This year, the series has moved from its original space in the Municipal Parking lot at Ludlow and Broome Streets to a new parking lot behind The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center (CSV), 114 Norfolk located on the east side of Norfolk Street between Delancey and Rivington Streets. “As You Like It,” directed by Hamilton Clancy, will be presented July 9 to 26 and “Macbeth,” directed by Jesse Ontiveros, will be staged July 30 to August 15.

The Drilling Company, under the direction of Mr. Clancy, has also been an incubator of new American plays since 1999, working in its intimate theater space at 236 West 78th Street, which was formerly 78th Street Theater Lab. That theater space was lost to them this past year when it was re-purposed into a residence. At the same time, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot was forced to vacate the municipal lot at Ludlow and Broome Streets when the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area gave way to Essex Crossing. Losing two performance venues in one year was a blow, but the company has been energized by its new opportunities to produce at Bryant Park and the parking lot adjoining Clemente Soto Velez. It continues to search for a new indoor venue where it can resume developing and producing new modern plays. Productions of The Drilling Company are supported in part this season by a grant from the Brad and Melissa Coolidge Foundation.

This season of Bryant Park Shakespeare productions is presented by Bryant Park Corporation and The Drilling Company. For info on upcoming Drilling Company productions call 212-873-9050 or visit www.shakespeareintheparkinglot.com and www.drillingcompany.org. For info on Bryant Park events only, visit www.bryantpark.org, @bryantparknyc and #bpshakespeare.

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.