Remembering Mercutios and Tybalts

In recent days of home-captivity my mind has wandered to Romeo & Juliet performances, new and old. However, I’m not especially interested in either Romeo or Juliet. My main takeaway from R&J is two far more remarkable characters: Mercutio and Tybalt. You’ll recall that Mercutio is a friend of Romeo’s. Tybalt, not so much.

If you’ve got the time, I’ve got the shows. Theaters are closed, yet some productions can be accessed online. The rest is memory lane.

Romeo & Juliet (1968, Paramount Pictures) Director Franco Zeffirelli was looking for a Michael York type to cast as Tybalt in his Romeo and Juliet. York’s agent got wind of it and called Zeffirelli. He said he had a Michael York, not a knockoff. I learned of this when (as a very young child) I spoke with Michael York, a special guest of the PA College English Assn at Pittsburgh’s Station Square Sheraton in 1994. He told a tale about how during shooting he and the guys in the cast, who were put up in lovely hotels in several Italian cities, had an idea in Rome. There was a fountain with goldfish swimming around in its basin. The men bought carrots and chopped them into 3 or 4 inch pieces and secretly dropped them into the pool of water at night. In the morning, with many guests in the lobby, they hung around, fishing out the carrots and eating them. The crowd was horrified.

That’s just by way of introduction. What I’m really interested in is his Tybalt.

Wilma “Mercutio is just one of Shakespeare’s constellation of fully-formed characters surrounding the star-crossed lovers.” “A hip hop Mercutio, played by real-life MC Anthony Martinez Briggs of Ill Doots…. gets full license to rework his character’s dialog…”. “If the poetry of the text is cut or elided by speedy delivery and attempts at humor and the basis of the tragedy is given short shrift, what are we left with? What about Shakespeare do we want kids to like?” Chris Munden, 2019 Phindie review

Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, 2018-19 performed at Royal Opera House. “The Royal Opera House’s live recording of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet is the production that will change the way you see this well-known story, the conflicts that exist around you, and ballet itself.” Eri Yonida, 2019 Phindie review

It screened at the Ritz 5 and Bryn Mawr Film Institute in ’19:

Royal Ballet’s Romeo says, “To have a Tybalt come at you with a sword with the look in the eye that they are genuinely going to stab you if you don’t block.” PS: The Royal Ballet’s ancient 2007 R&J is out there on DVD.

Starcrossed 2018 NY International Fringe Festival Rachel Garnet’s clever, clever writing twists Shakespeare’s immortal words to produce a hidden back story to the Capulet-Montague feud. She explores the connection of bold Tybalt (Eric Bermudez) and nimble Mercutio (Connor Delves). Tybalt, a slave to duty and reputation, finds Mercutio positively alluring. And vice versa. Who knew they were gentle swains? This show has everything including smart-alecky talk about romance: Paris: “I do not take seconds.” Mercutio: “Well, it’s hard not to do so in Verona.” Under the lively direction of David Kahawaii IV, Starcrossed brings out the gay blades— later accidentally dead blades.

Branagh Theatre Live: Romeo and Juliet 2016 Derek Jacobi is Mercutio and Ansu Kabia is Tybalt. Film, IMDB

Royal Ballet performs the MacMillan version: Mercutio: Alexander Campbell; Tybalt: Gary Avis. “Gary Avis’s Tybalt steals the show.” (Luke Jennings, The Observer) LIVE IN CINEMAS, Sept 2015

Emiley Kiser and Connor Hammond are ROMEO AND JULIET. Photo by Shawn May.
Emiley Kiser and Connor Hammond in the Quintessence production. Photo by Shawn May.

In Quintessence Theatre Group’s 2015 Romeo and Juliet, critic Chris Munden finds that the focus on language and youthful energy comes at the expense of the pathos in the plot itself. The pivotal death of Mercutio (Alan Brinks) is given much less space than the proceeding fight scene.” Phindie review

Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare 2014. They’ve known each other for what—a couple of hours? Already they’re crazy in love. Michael Cosenza’s fight choreography shines. Audiences love scene stealers, like Mercutio (J. Hernandez). “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man”

My review.

According to Kurt Osenlund’s 2013 review for Slant Magazine, a relatively unknown Christian Cooke (as Mercutio) “is customarily virile to the last breath” in R&J directed by Carlo Carlei, using Julian Fellowes’s Shakespeare script. “Not even when the doomed Juliet reaches for Romeo’s dagger do you feel a single vicarious pain in your gut.”

In Curio Theater’s 2013 same-sex version of Romeo and Juliet, Colleen Hughes is a street-smart Tybalt, and Mercutio is played by a male, Eric Scotolati. Phindie review.

Pennsylvania Ballet’s Jeffrey Gribler was an extremely popular Mercutio in the 2013 production of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet. Unfortunately he was let go, along with other el primo dancers and Ballet Masters, when Angel Corella took over. In October 2018 PA Ballet performed Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s version. Joseph Calley (Romeo) talks about Tybalt. Jermel Johnson danced an amazing Tybalt, and Peter Wiel danced a fond Mercutio.

Lantern Theater 2012 Director Charles McMahon’s stripped down production was part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, a NEA initiative. Jake Blouch’s bold Tybalt swashbuckles and Charlie DelMarcelle’s take on complicated Mercutio is witty, yet sterner than the usual course. Dangerous duels under Alex Cordero’s fight direction are no tame creations. (The presence of Frank X (Friar Lawrence) and Ceal Phelan (Nurse) in the cast is comforting– two mighty actors, beloved of audiences.) My review (the link is damaged)

2 Households, 2 Assholes: Shakespeare’s R&J 2012 New York Int’l Fringe Festival. Soho Playhouse. The Montagues and Capulets of fair Verona are the 2 households. Samuel Muñoz and Aaron Muñoz are the 2 assholes. Tightly edited, with impressive physicality, brilliant swordplay, and forward momentum. Played straight and hyper-dramatic, but with an eye for wit. Actors so often, and so annoyingly, hyper-articulate Shakespeare — not the case here, thank goodness. Aaron wears a black and pink dress even when he’s not Juliet, but Mercutio or the Friar or someone else. Be aware, with the crazy fast pace, a good working familiarity with Romeo and Juliet is assumed,

Maukingbird Theatre Co. 2000 Shakespeare’s R&J, adapted by Joe Calarco. My review. Great show, But If you didn’t already know the score, you would have to wonder how it happened that Mercutio is suddenly apparently mortally wounded.

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet Film 1996. Straight out of a Sergio Leone epic, smoldering John Leguizamo personifies the rabid killer Tybalt, a macho Capulet whose hatred of Romeo escalates with fatal results. Son of powerful Ted Montague (Brian Dennehy), a bitter enemy of the Capulets, Romeo runs with a gang that includes drag-queen extraordinaire Mercutio (Harold Perrineau).

That’s it. What have you got?

Cue the music: Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights”, I absolutely adore it … so dangerous.

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