Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale in Romeo and Juliet
(© Ellie Kurttz)
Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale in Romeo and Juliet
(© Ellie Kurttz)
Rupert Goold, who brought the astonishing Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart to Broadway some years ago, more recently set his hand to another of the Bard's great tragedies, Romeo and Juliet, now being presented by Royal Shakespeare Company at the Park Avenue Armory and a co-production with the Festival Lincoln Center. It's an unforgettable production, although that doesn't solely mean to imply that every choice he's made is a positive one.

The iconoclastic Goold apparently likes his Shakespeare dark -- so dark that this Verona abounds in designer Tom Scott's fire imagery and seems to be taking place in one of hell's lower circles. The result is a Romeo and Juliet in which, despite repeated sun imagery, the sun never shines.

The production sets out its intentions in the famed opening sequence, where the Montagues and Capulets engage in a street confrontation. Here, fight director Terry King not only employs whatever weapons are handy, including gasoline and matches, but sets women against women.

Indeed, Goold makes the point about the warring families' animosity so indelibly that the chance young Romeo (Sam Troughton) and barely-14 Juliet (Mariah Gale) take when they meet and marry in haste is the farthest thing from a casual decision.

Dressed in street clothes (he obscures himself in a hoodie) -- and looking more contemporary than West Side Story's Tony and Maria -- they're hardly the virginal teens we know from other productions. When expressing their love for each other and disdain for their predicament, they bellow their awakened emotions (although they never resort to sexting them).

It's not just the young romantics who shout it out, though. This is a Romeo and Juliet in which just about everyone talks at the top of his or her lungs -- as if Verona were populated by nothing but rageaholics. Richard Katz as Capulet and Christine Entwistle as Lady Capulet are in a constant fury, implying Juliet's rebellious fury was passed down in the DNA from parents tolerating a rocky relationship. Even Forbes Masson's Friar Laurence is not above hollering his religious oaths.

The most creative carrying-on comes from Jonjo O'Neill as an outlandishly randy Mercutio. He makes a full-course meal of the Queen Mab speech, and his "a plague on both your houses" when Mercutio is dying is also blood-curdling.

The sole exceptions to all the caterwauling is Noma Dumezweni who, as Juliet's nurse, usually keeps her worldly-wise advice to a listenable volume, and James Howard as Paris, the man favored for Juliet's hand, who also keeps it to a low roar.

As Goold's accelerating harangue about how devastating ignorance and hatred is to the innocent proceeds, there are any number of other arresting features. The dancing at the party the Montagues throw for Juliet is staged as if it were an African rites-of-passage stomp wrought by Toni Basil, and -- whether right or wrong for place and time -- it's absolutely arresting. (Georgina Lamb is the credited choreographer.) Lighting designer Howard Harrison, video and projection designer Lorna Harvey, and composer and sound designer Adam Cork also contribute to the eye-popping, ear-shattering occasion.