Review: ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company

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Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona where we lay our scene…

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

A man, walking onstage with a vacuum, recites the famous prologue to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The prologue sets the scene. We are in Verona (in this production, Verona seems to be a new age tavern) and there are two warring families, the Capulets and the Montagues and “from forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star-crossed lovers take their lives..” Wow, Shakespeare, spoiler much?

No, truly, unless you’ve lived under a rock since you were an infant, you most likely know the plot to this play. It’s etched so deep into our brains that it would take crews of hundreds and days to be able to dig it out from us. Fortunately, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production as directed by Alan Paul has given us a fresh take on this classic story.

The cast of 'Romeo and Juliet.' Photo by Scott Suchman.
The cast of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

Fresh off from his previous production of Kiss Me, Kate at STC, Paul has set the production in the modern day and has successfully found new layers to the play, ones that I definitely would have overlooked from the basic story. One of the things I appreciated was how much humor is actually in this play. For a good portion of the first three acts, there are many humorous moments. From Romeo’s lamenting of his love loss Rosaline, the Nurse’s quips to her lady, to the general frivolity at the Capulet ball, there are some really nice comedic moments in this play.

Alex Mickiewicz (Tybalt), Jeffrey Carlson (Mercutio), and Andrew Veenstra (Romeo). Photo by Scott Suchman.
Alex Mickiewicz (Tybalt), Jeffrey Carlson (Mercutio), and Andrew Veenstra (Romeo). Photo by Scott Suchman.

Unfortunately, one of the problems that I have with the play, seeps into this production as well – there is an abrupt tonal shift in the third act and from then on the play becomes this grim tale with an air of impending doom for the characters. Shakespeare doesn’t build it up very well (I just criticized Shakespeare; blasphemy!)  I’m not criticizing the production itself – quite the opposite. This is a very fine Shakespeare production and I attribute much of the success to Paul. The pacing is very smooth; none of the scenes dragged. I already praised the comedic elements, but the dramatic elements have much weight to them as well.

(Andrew Veenstra (Romeo), Ron Menzel (Friar Laurence), and Ayana Workman (Juliet). Photo by Scott Suchman.
(Andrew Veenstra (Romeo), Ron Menzel (Friar Laurence), and Ayana Workman (Juliet). Photo by Scott Suchman.

The two leads are cast well. It seems that Juliet, the character, has more to do in the second half of the play than the first and Romeo, vice versa. But the two characters as played by Andrew Veenstra and Ayana Workman are naïve and impatient. Their youthful spirit shines through and does make their ending quite moving. There are other fine performances in this production as well. Inga Ballard as the Nurse is funny and insightful; Jeffrey Carlson as Mercutio is quite fabulous; and Keith Hamilton Cobb and Judith Lightfoot Clarke are affecting as Juliet’s distant and possessive parents Lord and Lady Capulet.

One of my favorite aspects of the production was the set, designed by Dane Laffrey which gives the impression of a 21st century bar with red colors and wood paneling that is gorgeous to look at. This is helped by Jen Schriever’s lighting design, used most effectively at the Capulet ball (or should I say, rager). Kaye Voyce’s costumes are also quite stunning. I loved the gowns she designed for Lady Capulet. The long grey shirt and tight black pants she chose for Romeo, with Veenstra’s nice hair reminded me of Justin Bieber, which amused me.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the classic love story, has been given a fresh new look at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Check it out!

Romeo and Juliet plays through November 6, 2016, at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre – 450 7th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call the box office at  (202) 547-1122, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1550.gif