Review: "The Masque of Night" Proves One of The Bard's Most Well-Known Plays Is Not Past Its Dancing Days

 The Masque of Night: A Romeo and Juliet Cabaret

Music Direction by Flavio Gaete 

Directed by Janina Picard and Craig Bacon

Presented by New Place Players at Casa Clara

218 East 25th Street, Manhattan, NYC

March 8-10, 2024

Front left: Libby Lindsey and Maximilian Macdonald. Photo courtesy of Kampfire PR
How to infuse the most well-known of well-known Shakespeare plays with new energy, making the age-old story of star-crossed lovers as fresh and captivating as it was when the audience first encountered it (probably in high school)? The New Place Players’ The Masque of Night, a cabaret of songs (some Elizabethan, mostly contemporary) interspersed with Romeo and Juliet’s most iconic set-pieces, does just that. Running a little over an hour, the production draws on its multi-talented cast to deliver some of the play’s titular characters’ most memorable lines as well as sing, dance, and play instruments.

Maximilian Macdonald’s Romeo was the star of the show, embodying the youthful excitement and exuberance of the character to such an extent that he could win over even the most jaded cynic. He worked the small, intimate Casa Clara venue to great effect, engaging the audience as he moved throughout the space. Libby Lindsey as Juliet was especially strong in the tragic scenes in the latter parts of the production, and the chemistry between the young lovers was palpable and winning.

Relying on the audience’s prior knowledge of the play’s conflicts and the intricacies of the misfires at the end that lead to the double suicide, the production ran the risk of confusion. Focusing its action solely on Romeo and Juliet, however, whom we know are doomed even if we forget some of the finer details, was effective in allowing the audience to fully engage with these characters. In the end, buying into their love story is all that really matters for the production to be a success.
Photo courtesy of Kampfire PR
Given how streamlined the text is, certain choices were a bit puzzling. Why, for example, leave in Romeo’s obviously racially loaded line that Juliet is like a “rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear”? It is hard to see this as anything other than denigrating blackness when delivered in the context of an all-white cast. Equally, some of the song choices jarred. While it makes sense to turn to Shakespeare’s Sonnets for love lyrics, the use of Sonnet 20 during the wedding night was surprising. The most bluntly homoerotic of the sonnets to a fair youth, in Sonnet 20 the speaker laments his inability to consummate his relationship with the youth because he is “pricked out for women’s pleasure.” Certainly, neither the play nor this production gives any indication that the wedding night is anything other than wholly satisfactory.

Regardless of these choices, the production, with its strong acting and excellent musical performances, was a resounding success. The rain audibly beating down on the roof of Casa Clara, while something that obviously cannot be planned, only enhanced the cozy intimacy of the space and of course the tragedy of the play’s conclusion.

-Stephanie Pietros


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