Entertainment » Theatre

Romeo & Juliet

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Jul 27, 2017
John Zdrojeski and Gracyn Mix star in 'Romeo and Juliet'star in 'Romeo and Juliet'
John Zdrojeski and Gracyn Mix star in 'Romeo and Juliet'star in 'Romeo and Juliet'  (Source:Evgenia Eliseeva)

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company returns to Boston Common for a 22nd year, making this a summer of star-crossed love with "Romeo & Juliet."

Just in case you somehow never got the plot, here's a quick sketch. It's Verona, a self-contained polis replete with scenic ruins (crumbling churches, ivy, ancient family crypts). The city is ruled by a strict, but fair-minded, prince (Kaci Hamilton, in a bit of unapologetic casting that doesn't redefine the role as that of a "princess" but allows questions of gender and gender identity to hang in the air; you get the idea that if there were such a thing as Facebook in the middle ages, Verona's residents would laugh at gender and pronoun specifications as unnecessarily stuffy. They would, however, go nuts for Youtube.)

The city's tranquility has been riven of late by public scraps between members of two prominent families, the Capulets and the Montagues. Their blood feud, whatever its causes, runs hot and wild, especially among the younger generation. The prince, fed up with skirmishes in the streets, announces stringent penalties for those who engage in further violence.

Kario Marcel and the cast of 'Romeo & Juliet'  (Source:Evgenia Eliseeva)

But it's love, rather than war, that propels this drama. When Romeo (John Zdrojeski) -- the son of the Montagues (Mark Soucy and Chris Everett) -- attends a party thrown by the Capulets (Fred Sullivan, Jr. and Celeste Oliva), in order to catch a glimpse of a girl he's been crushing on, it's another beauty that captures him. Her name is Juliet (Gracyn Mix), and she's the Capulets' only child. She's also equally smitten once she lays eyes on Romeo. They're young, they're in love; naturally they're going to get up to all sorts of wild chaos, including elopements, sword fights, and expertly mixed tinctures that can cause death, or else merely simulate it.

The kids are surrounded by cohorts of friends and allies. Romeo hangs with Benvolio (Brandon G. Green) and Mercutio (Kario Marcel), the latter of whom is both a flashy dresser and a relative of the prince. Whereas Benvolio keeps his cool and exhorts everyone else to follow his example, though, Mercutio can't help but stir the pot, especially when it comes to Juliet's hotheaded cousin Tybalt (Kai Tshikosi). As the saying has it, it's all good fun until someone gets skewered, and then it's a pox upon everybody's houses. In the aftermath of a clash that leaves two youngsters dead, Romeo and Juliet realize they have no good options: It's either capital punishment, per the Prince's decree, or banishment (which, for these young one percenters, is, like, a total bummer: Leave Verona? Mix with the gross, rude people who live outside the city walls?). Either way, the very real possibility of separation looms, and in Juliet's case things are complicated by the fact that her parents have agreed to marry her off to an aristocrat named Paris (Adam Ewer).

Director Allegra Libonati furnishes this rendition with so many smart, lyrical touches you sometimes wonder if you've seen the play before. Her cast members don't intone, recite, or enunciate the Shakespearean lines so much as channel them, with an ebullience that's as physically potent as verbally pleasurable. The younger characters could be living today in some prosperous sunlit place -- a tech money-buoyed California town, maybe, where the kids are all fashionistas with flair (thanks to costumer Neil Fortin, who slaps angel wings on both of the youthful protagonists).

Gracyn Mix, Ramona Lisa Alexander, and Celeste Oliva in 'Romeo & Juliet'  (Source:Evgenia Eliseeva)

Zdrojeski and Mix get some good lines -- a lot good lines, actually, some of them quite funny, and they are so well paired that you can believe there's something more than ring adolescent hormones going on -- but the ensemble around them come to such vivid life that the titular couple do not outshine everybody else. Marcel makes Mercutio such a high-spirited class clown that -- spoiler alert! -- when he's cut down just before intermission there's a stab of real regret that he's not going to be back for the rest of the play.

Celeste Oliva and Fred Sullivan, Jr., in the roles of Juliet's parents, don't have as much to do as the younger actors, but they own every scene they're in. Juliet's Nurse (Ramona Lisa Alexander) and Friar Laurence (Equiano Mosieri), a mentor to Romeo, similarly stand out - though Alexander's performance does tend at times toward the overly broad, she has a way of burning up the stage.

The show's mix of the mediaeval and the modern extends to the sound design, by David Remedios, which includes a blend of contemporary and period-specific music, some if it performed live on stage by guitar-strumming ensemble members. Jamie Roderick's painterly lighting meshes with Remedios' work, creating entire worlds on Julia Noulin- Mérat's impressive set.

Though the play is a tragedy, this production's staging, design work, and performances make it feel like a triumph. CSC's Shakespeare on the Common, an open air extravaganza that's free to the public, always feels like a special treat, but this year there's something more at work -- an extra dose of spirited artistry and joie de vivre, from the way the play seems to heighten the senses in every way to the moments when the stage just cannot contain the show and it spills into the surrounding park. Catch it while you can and don't hesitate to go back for seconds.

"Romeo & Juliet" continues through August 6 on the Boston Common. The show is open and free to the public. For more information, please go to http://commshakes.org

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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