A few bright spots en route to tragedy in "Romeo and Juliet"
Many regard "Romeo and Juliet" as "the greatest love story ever told," but it's really a tale of immature infatuation rather than love. Two kids meet at a...
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"Romeo and Juliet," by William Shakespeare, plays Thursdays-Sundays through March 22, Balagan Theatre, 1117 E. Pike St.; $12-$20 (800-838-3006 or www.balagantheatre.org).
Many regard "Romeo and Juliet" as "the greatest love story ever told," but it's really a tale of immature infatuation rather than love. Two kids meet at a party and are smitten with one another. Unfortunately, their families are sworn enemies.
In Balagan Theatre's production, Juliet (Allison Strickland), the starry-eyed 14-year-old, is a well-behaved daughter until her first dance with the forbidden Romeo (Banton Foster). From then on, she's lost in amorous fantasy about her unacceptable lover.
Directors Lisa Confehr and Kaitie Warren have mounted the play on a bare, black-box stage. There is no set and few props. Actors are in contemporary dress. A minimalist production relies on dramatic lighting, which they have, and on riveting actors — which they don't always have in this production.
The balcony scene, splendidly produced, reinforces Juliet's youth. In it Strickland wiggles and squirms; she can't keep still.
She tosses her head, embraces herself as she thinks about and then sees her Romeo. She's like a fidgety kid waiting for a birthday surprise. It's a wonderful performance that gives vitality to words that are so familiar they have become clichés. "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" "... a rose by any other name ... "
As Romeo, Foster is a cute teenager who's as ready to fight to the death for some misguided sense of honor as he is to step into a new romance. He's as filled with anger as he is with affection. It's a good interpretation of the play, but unfortunately Foster isn't able to mediate between the two emotions.
Overall, the acting is spotty. All too often excess is substituted for depth. Add music to that, so loud it drowns out some of the dialogue, and you have problems.
But this "Romeo and Juliet" also gets a lot right. It gives attention to hate — more significant to this tragedy than the love. It reinforces the idea that the besotted young romantics are the victims of adult feuds and bad decisions. Battling families who take pride in the belligerence of their youths create an environment in which naive love can lead to death. And that's the tragedy.
Nancy Worssam: email@example.com
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