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RSC stages a thrilling 'Romeo and Juliet'

What light through yonder window breaks? Perhaps it's the glow from Juliet's iPod.
/ Source: The Associated Press

What light through yonder window breaks? Perhaps it's the glow from Juliet's iPod.

Rupert Goold's staging at the Park Avenue Armory retells Shakespeare's tale of two teenage, star-crossed lovers in a giddy, crazy emo romance that seems nothing like hundreds of years old.

Romeo wears a hoody, Doc Martens and pedals a bicycle across the stage. Juliet is a skinny-jeans wearing Avril Lavigne-lookalike with long blond hair who walks in Converse All Stars.

The production — complete with a rave dance party, jets of steam, sheets of fire and a man with his arm set ablaze — is one of five Shakespeare plays the company is performing in repertory until Aug. 14. The RSC has kindly brought along a 975-seat, steel-framed replica of an Elizabethan-era three-level theater and built it in the armory.

Goold, who recently staged Patrick Stewart's Stalinist "Macbeth," returns to New York with a punk version of young love — intoxicating, breathtaking, impetuous, finger-to-the-world and all-devouring. The words may be Shakespeare, but the sound and look is pure Green Day.

Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale play the lovers in modern dress while the rest of the cast don stylized Elizabethan costumes, augmented by lace-up platform boots. That lends the doomed couple a timelessness — and also a sense that they are out of time.

The play begins with Romeo as a tourist with a camera around his neck listening to an audio-guide on tape about Verona and snapping pictures using a flash. He gradually slips into the Renaissance world and then soon into a vicious street brawl between Capulets and Montagues. The energy and cleverness never let up for the remainder of the production. The Apothecary is a modern-day drug dealer, Romeo gives Juliet his hoody and everyone seems to hold their daggers like gangsters.

The couples' love cannot be contained by the thrust stage. Romeo hunches down in the audience as he awaits his love and he later crawls up to her balcony like Spider-Man. This is passion, one that is impetuous and puppyish and irrational and ferocious. Gale turns some of the plays best lines to her advantage, such as the playful insult to Romeo after a smooch, "You kiss by the book," and a swear about mom that could easily come from a teenager's room today: "O, she is lame!"

Other standouts include Jonjo O'Neill as a profane, puckish bottle-blond Mercutio, who is a little too vivid in his pornographic imagery; Noma Dumezweni's pipe-smoking Nurse; and Forbes Masson as an overwhelmed Friar Laurence. Tom Scutt's set smartly uses a central platform that rises from the middle of the stage and becomes a table and a tomb.

After the lovers are dead, Goold takes the interesting step of staging the aftermath in the Capulet crypt as a crime scene, complete with detectives with walkie-talkies wandering about like a scene from "CSI: Verona." Amid the flashes from photographers, a young man appears in headphones, listening to an audio-guide of what happened: "Never was a story of more woe/Than this of Juliet and her Romeo." The cycle begins again.