By Jeff Siniawsky
I seem to remember that Chris Rock once said that he doesn’t have time to put white people into little categories; Italian, English, Irish, etc., white people are all just white people. Then again, as The National sing “everything I can remember I remember wrong”, so maybe Chris Rock didn’t say that. Perhaps Freud (or maybe it was Groucho Marx) put it better when he said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes, a show is just a show.
Producing Juliet, from writer and director Tina Cesa Ward, has the makings of a fantastic show. Yes, there are gay and lesbian characters. So what? It’s not a gay or lesbian show, if there even is such a thing. In Producing Juliet, Tina Cesa Ward explores themes that transcend sexuality.
Rebecca (Alisha Spielmann) is in an open relationship with Laura (Jenny Grace), an actress. Laura is the star of “Comforts of Home” a play written by Juliet. It was seeing Laura on stage the first time when Rebecca fell in love with her. Rebecca is an attractive woman, smart, with a good job. But, in the first two episodes Rebecca comes across as someone who subordinates her wishes and desires to those of others; she accepts the open relationship with Laura despite the hurt it sometimes causes because that’s the only way she can have a relationship with Laura. Faced with the question of whether or not she deserves better, Rebecca seems unsure.
Juliet (Rachael Hip-Flores) is a playwright whose first play, the one in which Laura stars, was a hit – five years ago. Even with a long running hit to her credit, Juliet is having trouble getting a second effort produced. Juliet is smart and clever. She is a curious person with an intelligent wit that she displays easily, and she’s shown an ability to cut through BS to see the crux of truth. Juliet seems hurt by the lack of interest in producing her second play, not hurt so much as to be embittered, but enough to bring forth a dose of cynicism and cold reality. Juliet, it also seems, may have her own relationship issues. In that regard, Juliet is like Rebecca in that she seems willing to accept, not reject, that which she cannot change.
Rebecca and Juliet are introduced to one another at a chance meeting outside the theatre while each waits for someone they thought didn’t show. (Rebecca for Laura, Juliet for Evan (Andy Phelan)). Juliet’s curiosity causes her to engage Rebecca in conversation; she’s drawn to Rebecca’s story and what it may be. Before they part ways, Juliet hands Rebecca the script she had been intending to share with apparent no-show Evan. Rebecca spends the night reading the script and it becomes one of those life changing moments. Rebecca decides that she’s going to take control over her life; she’s going to produce Juliet’s play. Rebecca wants something to mean something to her; she’s been missing that.
The stage being set at the end of episode 2 (yes, the pun is intended), Producing Juliet is the story of producing Juliet’s play. It’s the story of the drama involved in the inter-personal relationships brought to the production. Although Producing Juliet has only two completed episodes so far, we’re able to see themes of love, relationships, ambition and disappointment all being explored in the story. Underneath it all may be a story of taking chances.
Tina Cesa Ward has assembled a fantastic team for Producing Juliet. Alisha Spielmann is wonderful as Rebecca, bringing just the right touch of softness and vulnerability to the character while showing some resolve by taking a chance in doing something she’s never done before. Rachael Hip-Flores brings Juliet to life with a harder exterior that masks her own vulnerability and disappointments. Shot in New York, Tina has nevertheless made Producing Juliet a global production. Producer Allison Vanore is based in LA and Producer Rochelle Dancel (one of the world’s coolest people) is London based. Oh, and there’s original music by Rob Gokee.
The play within a show scenario of Producing Juliet presents a fascinating possibility. As Tina told our Daniela DiIorio in an interview last August, part of the concept includes taking advantage of everyone’s experience with theatre and Rochelle’s background in theatrical production, and actually staging the play in London and NY. It would be brilliant if they can pull it off.
With only two episodes released so far, Producing Juliet has already achieved more than a quarter million views. We have made great strides as a society in recognizing that denial of civil and human rights is wrong. Progress will have been made when we stop putting people into little categories and defining them, and ourselves, by those little categories. Tina Cesa Ward has succeeded so far in creating a show that obliterates such categorization. What she’s done is create a really good show with a compelling story and characters. Sometimes, all that needs to be said about a good show is that it’s a good show.
Watch Producing Juliet here.