The Acting Company/Guthrie Theater Production of Romeo and Juliet features wonderful performances and interesting direction

April 22, 2010

Broadway World.Com Reviews: ROMEO AND JULIET at the Annenberg Center

Sarah Marcus

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Acting Company and the Guthrie Theater have come together to create a wonderful new touring production of Shakespeare's best-known classic Romeo and Juliet, which plays at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts through April 24th. This is the second recent production of the great lovers' tragedy to play Philadelphia, following the Arden's modernized production, which closed earlier this month. This Romeo and Juliet is part of a desire to bring Shakespeare to younger audiences. Director Penny Metropulos hopes to help this by setting the play against a Edwardian era backdrop, which, due to popular culture may be more accessible to today's audiences than a traditional Shakespearian era setting.

It is obvious that director Penny Metropulos has taught her actors to trust in Shakespeare's language. The dialogue is fast paced, but delivered with utterly incredible diction. And yet, her direction does not rely so much on the text that it reads it literally, making different and perhaps more realistic choices in iconic moments, especially in the balcony and death scenes. Her attention to detail in these moments reminds The Audience that these are simply two young people in love-dealing with all the joy and awkwardness it brings. Their interactions cause The Audience to reminisce and perhaps even spur some feeling of longing for those first pangs of love. The show is performed with thirteen actors and the doubling is highly successful.

Laura Esposito is phenomenal as Juliet. It is so dangerous to fall into The Common portrayal of Juliet as an annoying, whiney teenager but Esposito completely avoids this trap. Her take on the character as a wide-eyed, love struck young girl, simply rapt and excited in her newfound emotion is utterly refreshing. Sonny Valicenti gives a wonderful performance as Romeo as well. His rash and hasty actions are grounded in his joy in love. It is this that makes his portrayal, like Juliet's, actually believable, which in such an iconic text may be a feat in itself.

An equally talented cast supports the actors in the title roles, and among them are some standout performances. Elizabeth Stahlmann's Nurse is a gossip, a tease, and obviously Juliet's closest confident to the point that her betrayal later in the play is all the more disheartening. Chris Thorn as Lord Capulet finds a well of anger when he threatens to disown his daughter at her refusal of Paris. While this is often a scene where The Audience simply feels sorry for Juliet, his language, emotion and hinting of physical violence makes this a truly terrifying moment. Finally, Raymond L. Chapman as Friar Laurence provides a great performance in his transition from confident to the (well intending, but perhaps misguided) brains behind the lover's plans. Due to his previous character choices, his personal feelings of guilt in the final scene are fully supported.

The set by Neil Patel is a brick building faade with an iron balcony and staircase. It provides a wealth of entrances, exits and hiding places while still being easily seen as the many different locations in the play. Michael Chybowski's lighting design is absolutely beautiful, perfectly assisting with place, time of day, and nature of the dialogue. The Edwardian era costumes designed by Matthew J. LeFebvre provide an added sense of elegance - especially in the men' s three-piece suits.

Romeo and Juliet is a classic that still rings true due to its commentaries on passion, violence, true love, regret, revenge, hatred, societal expectations, and fate. These themes brought to life by Shakespeare's beautiful language continue to ring true for theatergoers today. While all enter the theatre knowing the outcome, there's something for everyone to relate to here from crazy friends, overprotective/concerned parents, to first loves and everything in between. The greatest tragedy is found in the older generation's inability to put aside their feud, which is the cause of their children's untimely ends. The Acting Company/Guthrie Theatre Production of Romeo and Juliet features wonderful performances and interesting direction which together perfectly compliment the truth of Romeo's words, "Here's much to do with hate, but more with love."