The Acting Company and Guthrie Theater get it right in Shakespeare's quintessential love story

April 23, 2010

THEATER REVIEW: Romeo and Juliet @ Annenberg Center, 4/21

Friday, April 23rd, 2010 posted by Alexandra Harcharek

Critical Mass: City Paper's Arts and Entertainment Blog

“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.”

Teenage love is anything but subtle. The story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is the quintessential love story, adapted and readapted year after year. Luckily, The Acting Company and The Guthrie Theater seem to have gotten it right. The two Tony award-winning acting companies are taking over the Annenberg Center’s stage this week with a traveling production of Romeo and Juliet.

The classic play, directed by Penny Metropulos, stays true to the Bard’s words, but everything else has a subtly modern treatment. Fair Verona is cleverly staged in Edwardian-era Italy, with understated details that delight. Gone are the ruffled costumes, replaced by snappy suits and flat caps. The party scene in which the star-crossed kiddies first meet is peppered with contemporary details: Guests swing to music warbling from a phonograph, fireworks light up the night sky, ladies dance in glittering gowns.

Shakespeare’s poetry, often dense and difficult to understand for the casual audience, is punctuated by cheeky humor and delivered with confidence. Sonny Valicenti and Laura Esposito are well paired as Romeo and Juliet. In their hands, tender moments like the desperately sweet balcony scene are convincing and heartbreaking.

The rest of the ensemble is strong, with spirited, innuendo-laden performances by Elizabeth Stahlmann as the Nurse, and William Studivant as Mercutio, who injected hormone-driven bravado in every scene. Watch out for Myxolydia Tyler as Perrin; she’s got one hell of a scream. Esposito’s voice easily swings from a dreamy girlish whisper, clutching at her chest when speaking of the moon and stars, to a petulant 13-year-old, when demanding news of her dearest loverboy. Equally, Valincenti’s overdone swooning and inconsolable moaning reminds me of those crushing teenage years — now thankfully well in the past.