‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

Director Ian Gallanar, and his cast and crew have thoroughly delivered on the promise of a “lusty, fiery production” of the classic tale of woe, that of Juliet and her Romeo. In fact, what makes the production at CSC’s new downtown Baltimore space so worthy of the Bard’s tragedy is that each individual cast member brings something unique and wonderful to the role.  The result is a composite of compelling performances and engaging work.  Some are masters of the text, while others provide more intuitive performances, and still others unearth clever bits to charm the audience.

Lauren M. Davis is Juliet, Matthew Ancarrow is Paris; David Mavricos is Romeo (seated). Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.

Lauren M. Davis ( Juliet), Matthew Ancarrow (Paris), and David Mavricos (Romeo) (seated). Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.

David Mavricos, for instance, adds unconventional physicality to Romeo’s moments of despair and rage that powerfully underline his emotional journey through the play. Vince Eisenson perfectly balances Mercutio’s death scene between self-defensive humor and rapidly deteriorating will, and his Queen Mab tale, often the most incomprehensible moment in the play, is a standout performance at this production, with storytelling bits that suggest everything from violent crusades to male/male sex. Lauren M. Davis delivers Juliet’s verse flawlessly, with rounded tones and rich clarity within the dynamic levels. Mimsi Janis gives the nurse a fascinating inner life; her coquettish longing after Mercutio is a delight to watch.

Dave Gamble presents Lord Capulet with bold levels of emotional conflict, striking his daughter and then immediately regretting the abuse. In every scene, there is something to enjoy, whether it is Molly Moores (Lady Capulet) performing grief and rage to a crescendo that feels like an operatic aria, or embracing the Travis Hudson (Balthasar) embracing the absurd thumb biting insult exchange (it’s just charming to see him run back to Tyler Groton’s Abram to ask “Is the law on our side if I say aye?”), or Matthew Ancarrow’s subtle but lascivious evaluation of Juliet’s beauty after their initial meeting.

Kristina Lambdin’s costumes are everything they should be. Historically suggestive, rich and detailed, and true to character, they work well across the board (the excessively gold Prince Escalus gown with its loose fitting sleeves suggests a detached idleness that adds a clever spin on the role).  Small set pieces combine with appropriate use of the gorgeous space, from turning the trapdoor into a walk down for Juliet’s grave or using the house door for Romeo to sneak into the family tomb in the dark. Fight choreography is always challenging in the Bard’s plays, but R+J has a few unique challenges, such as the unlikely defeat of Tybalt by Romeo.

Lauren M. Davis is Juliet, Dave Gamble is Lord Capulet, Mimsi Janis is Nurse. Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.

Lauren M. Davis (Juliet), Dave Gamble (Lord Capulet), and Mimsi Janis (Nurse). Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.

Christopher Niebling takes the choreography to a flashy, spirited level that is underlined by moments of marked brutality (such as Romeo cutting Tybalt’s throat after he has beaten him). It reinforces the idea that brawling is a daily event in Verona, but suggests that death is not so commonplace, underlining the Prince’s outrage at where these petty quarrels lead.

There are a few superfluous blackouts that last too long, and a processional of characters set immediately prior to the prologue that in this reviewer’s opinion actually undermines the clarity of Shakespeare’s most perfect expository monologue. But, the moments to question are infinitesimal amid this great banquet of wonderful work.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet is effective Shakespearean theatre and beautifully done.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Romeo and Juliet plays through May 10, 2015 at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company – 7 South Calvert Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 244-8570, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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