Taking inspiration from the original stage directions which suggests that the Jets should be "an anthology of what it means to be American," the Jets of this production are an ethnically diverse group. So the story is not the white gang vs. the people of color, but rather people whose families have been in this country for a few generations (whether they arrived willingly or forcibly, 20 or 200 years ago) vs. the new immigrants. It's the story of America. People come to this country in search of a better life for their family, and those who are already here react in fear towards the newest wave of immigrants, be they Irish, Japanese, Puerto Rican, Mexican, or Muslim. The language used by the characters sounds very similar to the language we hear every day (excluding the occasional daddio). Members of the Jets are afraid that the Sharks' families are taking their jobs. Lieutenant Shrank calls the Jets sons of immigrant scum and the Sharks spics, then says maybe I don't have the right, but we have laws, and I'll find the right. Sounding very much like current politicians who exploit laws to further their own agenda. At the tragic end of the play, Maria turns to look at the fallen Statue of Liberty, crashed to the ground like her American dream. She hoped for a life of opportunity in America, as so many do, but instead found death. The small glimmer of hope is that the two sides will come together in the wake of this tragedy, but we've seen too often in the real world that it doesn't last.
|the dance (photo by Charles T. Erickson)|
The thrust stage is sparsely decorated, allowing plenty of room for movement. Besides Lady Liberty the other dominating set pieces are rotating metal scaffolding representing Maria's balcony and Doc's store. Music Director/Conductor Mark Hartman and his fantastic 15-person orchestra are visible at the back of the stage, and do credit to this gorgeous score. The lighting design creates many memorable images with shadows, and the '50s period costumes are yummy. They help to distinguish the Jets (cool shades of blue, green, and gray) from the Sharks (warm reds, oranges, and yellows). Because of the diverse casting, you can't always tell who belongs to which gang just by looking at them, which is a good reminder that we can't know who a person is or what their background is just by their appearance. (Scenic design by Christopher Acebo, costume design by Jen Caprio, lighting design by Bradley King.)
|when Maria (Mia Pinero) met Tony (Marc Koeck)|
(photo by Charles T. Erickson)
|the Sharks vs. the Jets (photo by Charles T. Erickson)|
West Side Story continues on the Guthrie's thrust stage through August 26.
*You can see the inspiration for West Side Story, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, outdoors at area parks through July 15 in Classical Actors Ensemble's playful yet tragic production.