Romeo and Juliet – Review by Irene Backalenick

The Italians are at it again….at least in old Verona, Verona of the 1500’s, it would seem. Boyish camaraderie, lively sword play, street duels. (Why aren’t they all at home, studying with their tutors?) But in this sultry setting, the greatest love story of all time evolves.

Not really a love story, but a coming-of-age story. Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time at a party and promptly fall in love. No matter that they don’t even know each other. What follows will test their courage, loyalties, values.

Director Mark Lamos (who is Artistic Director of the Playhouse) offers his own version of the Shakespearean drama, moving smoothly scene to scene. The tale is never overstated, ornate, carrying extra baggage. The scenes, the Veronese mural, the appropriate costumes, are all works of art, all evocative of the era. The play opens mistily, with the cast in silhouette, introducing the tale to come.  The following scene, with dialogue as misty and murky as the atmosphere, sets the tone. Lamos has indeed created a far-off fairy tale.

Whether or not one relates to this approach is no matter. This classic  will stand on its own, as it has through the ages. Shakespeare’s people are so human, their family scenes so believable, as they play out their lives in this particular culture.

As to the performers, Nicole Rodenburg creates a radiant Juliet who lights up the stage, and brings the story to a high level. She is not always matched by the cast, but there are strong performances, such as Alison Cimmit’s Lady Capulet. Patrick Andrews is a lively Mercutio, and Felicity Jones Latta, who gets the best lines as Nurse, makes the most of her role. One looks for more fire from James Cusati-Moyer as Romeo, but he comes into his own in a sobbing scene.

Lamos has assembled a top-notch design team, with Michael Yeargan’s exquisite set and the impeccable costumes of Fabian Fidel Aguilar. Michael Rossmy keeps the fights on target, with David Budries (sound) and Matthew Richards (lighting) rounding out this strong design team.

In all, this is an intriguing take on Shakespeare’s timeless “Romeo and Juliet.”