One of the biggest pitfalls of casting "Romeo and Juliet" is that you need to find younger actors (the lovers are supposed to be 14 years old) who can handle these characters and this play without devolving them into petulant teens. And this was the major issue I had with the current production at the Intiman as neither of the two eponymous lovers seemed to connect with each other or the flowery speeches and therefore didn't connect with the audience. Luckily many of the other members of the cast turned in some stellar performances making the more interesting play, "Romeo and Juliet's Family and Friends".
I won't insult you with a synopsis of the story. I mean we all know it, right? But I will explain that director Alison Narver has taken the story out of time and added an element of street gang to the show. No it's not the Sharks and Jets but it's close as the rival families not only display memorial pictures to their fallen brethren on a chain link fence but also on their own persons with pictures pinned and screened to their clothing and in some cases tattooed on their bodies. While visually interesting I felt like it distracted from more than it complimented the story.
But what really left me cold were the lovers who only seemed to be, at best, in lust with each other. Quinn Franzen and Fawn Ledesma as the titular Romeo and Juliet didn't really feel like they connected with each other. They each had much more connection with others around them as Juliet had a wonderful relationship with her Nurse and Romeo felt right in the moment with his buddies and the Friar. But together, nothing. And since that lack of feeling seemed to permeate what is a story about feeling, whenever they expounded on their love I found myself tuning out and paying more attention to others on stage … or my grocery list.
But like I said, there are some amazing performances here; just not from the two you wanted. Michael Place is stunning as the rakish Mercutio. In addition to his spritely energy he had for the character he also infused a laser focus to his being making his every intention clear. Allen Fitzpatrick is wonderful in his variety of roles but truly shines as the Friar tasked with keeping the couple together. Shawn Law is glorious as both the street tough and volatile Tybalt as well as the meek and thoughtful Paris and completely transforms from one to the other. Shellie Shulkin has a lovely and heartbreaking turn as the grieving Lady Montague and Timothy McCuen Piggee and Carol Roscoe are riveting as Lord and Lady Capulet, especially Piggee who brought an incredible presence to the role. But the stand out performance of the show and one of the most interesting takes on the role I've seen came from Marya Sea Kaminski as Juliet's Nurse. A complete show stealer, her every move, nuance and utterance conveyed worlds about her character. A character, I might add, whose very existence seems to be for exposition and yet became the most interesting person on stage. All in all a worthwhile production, just not for the characters you'd expect.
So, now that I've seen all the shows at the festival, which was the best? I think I'd have to go with the raucous "Miracle!" with the complex "A Dirty Story" as a close second. And what an incredible ensemble of actors for taking on four very different shows and performing them in Rep. Not an easy task. Special kudos to Piggee and Kaminski for turning in some of the most versatile and varied performances and all with aplomb. Intiman could do an entire festival with just them. I can see it now, "Here, take this phone book and read aloud. Oh and make it interesting." I'd go!
"Romeo and Juliet" plays at Intiman Theatre through August 26th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.intiman.org.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion