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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Romeo and Juliet

Peter Hall's vivid absorbing production of Shakespeare's classic rips across the stage of the Ahmanson with a passion that gives new colors to its timeless tragedy. He paints the proscenium with swashbuckling blocking at a pace that never falters.

Romeo and Juliet is the third Shakespearean play Hall has brought to the Ahmanson, sharing a dream of forming an American Shakespeare company and bringing classical repertory to Los Angeles with CTG's Artistic Director/Producer, Gordon Davidson. "American actors are terribly good at doing Shakespeare. They just have to learn it," Hall told me during my interview with him in 1999 when he brought Measure for Measure and A Midsummer Night's Dream to the Ahmanson. Indeed the bi-racial cast is remarkably well-assimilated vocally. The tones of such British players as Miriam Margolyes blend in seamlessly.

It's a marker of the times that, although the feuding Capulets and Montagues are played by opposite races, one doesn't perceive Romeo and Juliet with shock. The different races don't overpower the play. Hall does make use of Tybalt's "Boy!" to give it the demeaning association it has gained in the minority community. He also makes cousins Romeo and Benvolio brothers, not only racially but intimately. Their laughter and shared sense of bonding strengthens both characters, not least because Michael Potts is the strongest Benvolio in recent memory.

Lynn Collins' adroitly portrays a many-faceted Juliet, making expert use of body language to depict shyness and fear. When she appears in her cloak in Friar Laurence's cell, she seems to shrink into its folds, her back curving even as her gaze is steady. DB Woodside, as Romeo, is less skillful in Shakespearean language but his passion and enthusiasm make a highly credible now-centered youth. It's a very different, though equally valid, interpretation from the one John Vickery gave at La Jolla in the mid-1980s, in which he and Amanda Plummer as Juliet both grew, maturing in their short span from headstrong teen-agers to grave maturity.

Hall plays the humor note in Paris, casting Michael Tisdale as a foppish suitor, stiff as a Dutch doll. His greatest coup in the humor department is the incomparable Miriam Margolyes as The Nurse, whose tiny round figure barrels across the stage with a vigor and flair that light up every scene she's in.

Michael Gross gives Friar Laurence the air of a gentle herbalist, whose otherworldly effort to unite the parted lovers seems foredoomed, and Dakin Matthews lends strength and feistiness to Old Capulet. Jesse Borrego's fey Mercutio is a sprite among the mellow voices and bubbling passions that swirl around him. What is usually an overpowering cameo embroiders this strong cast.

The pillared background of John Gunter's set will be familiar to those who saw the Shakespearean plays Peter Hall directed here in 1999. His new set elements work expertly and the vivid costumes are his best yet. Dressed in the classicism of the early 19th century they convey the ardor of the French Revolution when the old aristocratic order was overthrown by the long-suppressed anger of the people. Romeo's friends wear bright tattered gypsy costumes that reinforce that ambience and subtly underscore the conflict insinuated by the bi-racial Montagues and Capulets. It's a concept that has been done before in Romeo and Juliet but rarely this well. In his current production, Hall has fulfilled his dream of making Shakespeare alive and exciting. And never dull.

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Peter Hall
CAST (Principals): Chorus: Dakin Matthews. Benvolio: Michael Potts. Tybalt: Mark Deakins. Capulet: Dakin Matthews. Lady Capulet: Sara Botsford. Montague: James Avery. Lady Montague: Sharon Omi. Escalus, Prince of Verona: J. D. Hall. Paris: Michael Tisdale. Romeo: DB Woodside. Juliet: Lynn Collins. Nurse: Miriam Margolyes. Mercutio: Jesse Borrego. Friar Laurence: Michael Gross. Set & Costume Design by John Gunter
Lighting Design by Robert Wierzel
Sound Design by Rob Milburn Running time: 3-1/4 hours including intermission.
Ahmanson Theatre, Center Theatre Group, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA. (213) 628-2772
2/04/01-3/18/01; opening: 2/04/01
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock based on 1/30 performance
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