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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Romeo and Juliet
We know this story well, and Ellen Geer's conceptual take on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is not groundbreaking. Nonetheless, the season-opening production at Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum directed by Ellen Geer is smart, well-executed and sadly timely.
Shaun Taylor-Corbett and Judy Durkin are plenty appealing as the title lovers and Geer surrounds them with a largely strong group of Theatricum veterans and company newcomers. The production's point of view is clear and sharp, and with pros like Alan Blumenfeld (as Capulet) and Melora Marshall (Juliet's Nurse) handling the text, Shakespeare's language is in steady hands.
The attention to the play's framework and details of Geer's production are particularly adept. While no dramaturg is credited in the program, the textual tweaks and renaming of characters all make perfect sense and nothing on stage strains credulity plot-wise.
Battles between the Muslim Montagues and Israeli Capulets break out at checkpoints after Israeli guards have taunted Muslim citizens who are trying to move through the city. Romeo first espies Juliet at a wicked cool Purim party thrown by Capulet, and the city's Prime Minister (Jonathan Bray), who threatens retribution for civil disobedience, is a guest at this party. Later in the play, when Juliet leaves her home to take her prayers with a holy man, she goes not to temple but to Mufti Zaman (Friar Laurence in the original text) who married her to Romeo a few scenes earlier.
In other words, Juliet is lying to her parents and traveling to a forbidden part of town to fraternize with the "enemy." Zaman (played by Steven B. Green) may be a Muslim holy man and Romeo's confidant, but he wants peace between the warring families and will operate outside the law to achieve it.
As is often the case with works of Shakespeare at the Theatricum, Geer's production employs a large cast and uses the entire woodland performance space to meaningful effect. Fight choreographer Aaron Hendry vividly sets the tone during the opening brawl and brings some gritty street violence into the tragic fights between Tybalt (Taylor Jackson Ross), Mercutio (Rav Val Denegro) and Romeo. The Purim rap led by Mark Samet's Mendel (to original music by Marshall McDaniel) is another highlight, infusing this production with an element of cool that Romeo and Juliet rarely contains.
As the lovers, both Taylor-Corbett and Durkin work some puppyish chemistry that suggests the innocence of first love rather than teen-agers whose hormones have gone amok. During his early scenes, when he is pining after the unattainable Rebecca, Taylor-Corbett's Romeo whines often and seems to resent anybody suggesting that he is going about this amorous business the wrong way. After a night at Juliet's balcony, however, a change comes over him, and Taylor-Corbett makes Romeo grow up in a hurry. His scenes with Green's Mufti are laced with the appropriate mixture of petulance and anguish. In Taylor-Corbett's hands, we understand that Romeo is a kid who is very much out of his depth.
Durkin's winsome Juliet starts off all giggles and knowing glances with her Nurse (she's practically in Marshall's lap). Out on her balcony before Romeo shows up, a besotted Durkin relives the dance and that first kiss. All of Durkin's girlishness falls away in the later acts when the play essentially pivots on Juliet's choices. The actress, who looks like she could still be in high school, handles the maturation with credibility. If her work here is any indication, she should be the Theatricum's go-to Bard ingenue for seasons to come.
It speaks well of the Theatricum that, in addition to festival favorites like Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream, the season's summer repertoire includes some less familiar fare. With the gore-fest Titus Andronicus on the upcoming agenda, any playgoer who didn't get his fill of blood-shedding in the Montague and Capulet East Jerusalem should be plenty satisfied. But for a classic mix of romance and tragedy, the company's Romeo and Juliet expertly fits the bill.
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Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Directed by Ellen Geer
Cast: Kamran Abbassian, Claire Bryett Andrew, Alan Blumenfeld, Jonathan Bray, Clayton Cook, Judy Durkin, Steve Fisher, Steven B. Green, Kevin Hundell, Nima Jafari, Israel Lopez Reyes, Celia Manela, Melora Marshall, Victoria Yvonne Martinez, Kelvin Morales, Daniel Ramirez, Karen Reed, Taylor Jackson Ross, Mark Samet, Gray Schierholt, Alexander Sheldon, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Rav Val Denegro, Kate Adams, Julia Finch, Celina Lee Surniak.
Assistant Director: Willow Geer
Costume Design: Beth Glasner
Production Stage Manager: Elna Kordijan
Original Music/Sound Designer: Marshall McDaniel
Lighting Designer: Zachary Moore
Assistant Stage Manager/Properties Master: Karen Osborne
Fight Choreographer: Aaron Hendry
Plays through October 2, 2016 at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd, Topanga (310) 455-3723, www.theatricum.com.
Running time: Two hour with one ten minute intermission.
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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