“These violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder / Which, as they kiss, consume.”
Friar Lawrence’s words ring pulse-quickeningly true in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s vibrant Romeo & Juliet, its sixth iteration of this timeless tale. Directed by Alan Paul, the company’s associate artistic director, the production also marks the 28th anniversary of the wonderful Free for All program, which has allowed 700,000 viewers to enjoy STC offerings free of charge.
Paul, scenic designer Dane Laffrey, and costume designer Kaye Voyce give Verona’s fight-hard, play-hard crème de la creme an invigorating contemporary Eurotrash spin. But a tragedy that includes romantic and comic elements, the classic thrives or withers on the core chemistry of its two principals. In Sam Lilja’s Romeo and Danaya Esperanza’s Juliet, we feel every adorable, harrowing, disorienting, electrifying, helpless, beaming moment of their adolescent love. Lilja’s mood swings and Esperanza’s smart, sweet, manipulative young womanhood ring true to the fabulous hormone-hectored hell of adulting.
Jeffrey Carlson’s Mercutio is a bravura performance. In his silvered party suit and white lounge warmups, he’s a quick-witted, volatile, ambisexual fop, cross-pollinating Anthony Andrews’s Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited with Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday in Tombstone. Carlson takes the role to the unsettling edge, but never quite over. His Queen Mab speech is a bitter hallucinogenic rant, his death a quietly searing surrender to futility and fate.
As Juliet’s nurse, E. Faye Butler has a raucous motherly bond with her temperamental charge. In symmetry, Ron Menzel’s Friar Laurence—here a relatable, neo-hippy priest—is a worldly, luminous, if erring guide to Romeo in matters of spirit and flesh. Timothy D. Stickney’s Capulet is also a standout as suave head of household and loving but brutal sire to Juliet, his vicious ultimatum speech regarding her suitor Paris drawing the audience’s indignant protest. And in a classic example of a tiny role made memorable through superb comic timing is Joe Mucciolo as Peter, an illiterate and much put-upon Capulet messenger and servant.
Romeo & Juliet
closes September 2, 2018
Details and tickets
Voyce’s outfits look like designer sport and evening wear from The Real Housewives of Verona. The wood-paneled, two-level set is handsome, complete with an elegant ceiling that descends to form a claustrophobic mausoleum.
As moodily lit by Jen Schriever, the stage is hued in burgundy, calling to mind the R&J-riffing West Side Story’s “womb to tomb.” A central, jutting, partially mirrored glassed-in space becomes a DJ’s booth during the Capulets’ dance party, a shrine for the Virgin in the Friar’s chapel, and a window to the young couple’s lovemaking. (The downside is that it also distractingly reflects into the audience some stage lights and characters waiting in the wings.)
David Leong’s fight choreography has a bracing stop-and-start, testosterone-infused mayhem to it. Composer and sound designer Daniel Kluger’s score undergirds menace with its rumbling synth bass notes and haunts the sepulcher with jittery string pizzicatos. His moderate-tempoed techno dance tunes for the Capulets’ carousal are enticing, as is his R&B-ish setting of the Bard’s ballad, sung fetchingly by Gaby Hornig during Romeo and Juliet’s first encounter.
The vicissitudes of love and fate may prove us all fools. But rest assured, your passion is well invested in this boldly conceived production.
Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare . Director: Alan Paul. Cast: Capulet: Timothy D. Stickney. Lady Capulet: Judith Lightfoot Clarke. Juliet: Danaya Esperanza. Tybalt: Paul Deo. Nurse: E. Faye Butler. Peter: Joe Mucciolo. Sampson: Elan Zafir. Gregory: John Keabler. Montague: Gregory Wooddell. Lady Montague: Shanara Gabrielle. Romeo: Sam Lilja. Benvolio: Sebastian Chacon. Balthasar: Brian Reisman. Escalus: Craig Wallace. Mercutio: Jeffrey Carlson. Paris: Thomas Keegan. Friar Laurence: Ron Menzel. A Teen: Omar D. Cruz. Singer: Gaby Hornig. Ensemble: Emilia Brown, Madalaina D’Angelo, Omar D. Cruz, Sheldon Donenberg, Gaby Hornig, Lauren Erica Jackson, Joe Mucciolo, Brian Reisman, Audrey Tchoukoua, Andrew Thornton. Scenic designer: Dane Laffrey. Costume designer: Kaye Voyce. Lighting designer: Jen Schriever. Lighting adapter: Catherine Girardi. Sound designer/composer: Daniel Kluger. Choreographer: Eric Sean Fogel. Choreography re-created by Felicity Stiverson. Fight choreographer: David Leong. Casting director: Carter C. Wooddell. Original casting directors: Laura Stanczyk, CSA; Carter C. Wooddell. Dramaturg: Drew Lichtenberg. Voice and text coach: Lisa Beley. Associate director: Charlie Marie McGrath. Production stage manager: Christopher Michael Borg. Stage manager: Kurt Hall. Assistant stage manager: Rebecca Shipman. Produced by Shakespeare Theatre Company . Reviewed by Alexander C. Kafka.
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