Every so often, a newly discovered talent emerges from the darkness and radiates in the spotlight. There’s something about him or her that speaks to us, something about them that is profoundly gifted that we look on in awe. It’s exciting for us to watch them, imagining that this could be what our parents or grandparents felt upon first catching a glimpse of Brando, Hepburn, Davis or Streep on the silver screen.
Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of the Olsen twins, is THAT actress. She first erupted onto the scene in 2011 playing the lead in Martha Marcy May Marlene. A big hit on the indie film circuit, she soon found the attention of Hollywood and has been working steadily ever since. With a mere 10 films under her belt, she has already worked with the likes of Jane Fonda, Spike Lee and Jessica Lange.
However, it is in her current role on stage in NYC playing Juliet in director Tea Alagic’s modern telling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” that Ms. Olsen glides effortlessly from scene to scene. Upon her first appearance, it is immediately evident that the sheer amount of stage presence she exudes is overwhelming. Playing the 13 year old Juliet provides a wide range of emotions from her first meeting with the ill fated Romeo right up until their death. However, it’s the moments in between where Ms. Olsen shines. Moving like a gazelle around the stage, she perfectly embodies the innocence of first love and the immediate immaturity and forcefulness that Juliet’s journey requires.
Overall, what is evident is that Ms. Olsen’s time in film has paid off for this role. The subtle way she approaches Juliet without giving in too much to theatricality yet letting us glimpse inside the world of a young girl leaves you speechless. It is in the comedy, and yes, there’s quite a bit of comedy in this tragedy, that she oozes charisma. Though the difference between theatre and film is vast, Ms. Olsen challenges you to separate them. Normally in theater, you may itch to be closer, to see a facial expression or a smile but not here. In the 2 1/2 hour time frame that “Romeo and Juliet” plays out, you never yearn for something more than is being presented. Ms. Olsen and the rest of her cast (check out T.R. Knight for another performer worth watching) leave you breathless and fulfilled.
Though some may disagree with the set or with some added props, this version of Shakespeare’s tragedy lingers long after the final bows in a way good theater should. It is nearly impossible to take your eyes off of Ms. Olsen when she’s on stage, whether through her psychological transformation of understanding the conflicted feelings of being in love with an enemy or the way her smile, from a distance or up close, never fails to exude both glee and fear, bringing to the forefront a complex Juliet filled with contradictions. The brilliance of this comes in the innocence that can be overlooked in Juliet’s character. Not only is this story about star crossed lovers but more so about the deeper emotions and feelings that lie underneath being inexperienced, scared and in love.
Only playing for a limited engagement, Ms. Olsen is not to be missed. In a season where high profile stars are taking on Broadway in famous revivals, both Shakespearean and modern day, Ms. Olsen’s performance deserves not to be overshadowed. Hers is a performance that will stay with you, that will bring you a new understanding to the world of the Montagues and Capulets and most importantly, let you experience for 2 1/2 hours the magnificent power of theater when performed with passion and grace.
“Romeo and Juliet” is playing at Classic Stage Company until November 10th.