The Tragedy of Mario and Juliet, presented by Dead Cat Productions/Wayne Nicolosi (as well as written and directed by Nicolosi), reinvents well-known Shakespearean characters and plots to explore some pretty weighty themes with comedy largely trumping drama. Nicolosi’s dialogue blends contemporary, Jersey-accented vernacular with the occasional Elizabethan verse, both can be challenging to the ear at times.
Borrowing from the Bard has a rich tradition, e.g., Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) and Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Nicolosi’s play trades Verona, Italy for “Little Italy” in Verona, New Jersey. He poses burning questions: Will Juliet trade dweeby, inept architect Romeo (who has designed a ramshackle balcony addition for her bedroom) for hunky carpenter Mario (of Mario & Self contractors) who’s been hired to build said balcony? Will Old Man Montague (Brian Binney) best his political and financial rival, wiseguy Capulet (Dakota Schuck)?
Allen Andrews (Mario) and Ashley Zielinski (Juliet Capulet) are very appealing leads who have a sizzling chemistry. John Daniel Gore (Romeo Montague and supporting roles) seems awkward in his part until it registers that he’s playing nebbish with a purpose. Liam Rowland (Mercutio, Tybalt) shines in two hilarious parts. He’s got to be the first Shakespearean ghost supporting wings: his Angels in America moment? Well, not quite, but great fun. Cristen Stephansky takes on three roles, but Juliet’s Nurse is her strongest with an Edith Bunker-like vocal quality matched by the ditsy psyche.
As works-in-progress go, The Tragedy of Mario and Juliet is ambitious and fun. I’d recommend a nip and tuck of a few scenes and/or add an intermission. Some scenes seem less important, e.g., Tybalt and the HR Specialist, Romeo’s conversation with Mercutio about his “relationship” with Juliet, Romeo and Juliet sparring about the wedding, and the entire tennis lesson scene. In fact, as the show is now constructed, Romeo (notwithstanding Gore’s talent for comedy) doesn’t need to be present at all; it’s how characters react to him that’s important. Some of the conversations between Mario and Juliet and Mario and Mercutio also could to be tightened.
I am looking forward to the next inception of The Tragedy of Mario and Juliet.
Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes, with no intermission.
The Tragedy of Mario and Juliet is playing through July 23, 2016 at Atlas Performing Arts Center: Lab II – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.
Check other reviews and show previews on DCMetroTheaterArts’ 2016 Capital Fringe Page.
Read the preview of ‘The Tragedy of Mario and Juliet’ by Wayne Nicolosi.