by Geoff Hoff~
I have always had a problem with the play Romeo and Juliet, probably the most performed of all of Shakespeare’s plays. I always felt that the story of the “star-cross’d lovers” seemed a bit rash. After all, Romeo and Juliet meet one evening, express their undying love for each other that night, are married the next day and are both dead by mid-week. The deep-seated passion with which the play is usually presented never quite felt right. I didn’t much speak of this because the play is considered the greatest love story ever told and I didn’t want to seem unromantic.
With the new production of Romeo and Juliet by the Coeurage Theatre Company, currently playing at the Actors Circle Theatre, it finally all makes sense. This play is not so much a love story as it is a clear examination of youthful folly and the destructive power of wanton enmity, enmity between families, of course, that, in a greater sense, could be thought of as enmity between societies and nations.
Romeo is a fickle, flighty young man, “in love with love” to borrow a phrase from another of Shakespeare’s plays; he is deep in the throws of a passion for Rosaline, ready to die of it, until he lays eyes on young Juliet at a party. He just exchanges one “sun” in the east for another. Had he lived, how soon would the next beauty invaded his “undying passion”? Juliet is not quite 14 and is a willful child. She is almost silly, in the way that a young woman can be silly, even one who will mature into a woman of great stature, wit and substance. Both seem at an age where they are being run by their loins and hormones more than their hearts. The danger of their being from two warring families adds to the romantic ideal of their union and further fans their hormonal flames. Had the doddering old Friar not agreed to marry them, had Juliet’s father not been such tyrant, their union would have blazed for a night or two then faded as they grew tired of each other and found new distractions.
The tragedy is not of star-crossed lovers. It is the tragedy of hot heads. Tybalt, of course, is the most obvious, and it brings about his death. Once he is dead, he is talked about almost as if he were a saint but every move he makes from the first time we seem him spells his doom. Mercutio is also a hot head, although one of quite a different stripe; he is what now might be called a party boy, full of sexual innuendo and bravado. Capulet and Montague are both, obviously, hot heads, as is Lady Capulet. And it is tragic: The needless death of four young people, all, ultimately, in the name of family honor. I want to slap both Capulet and Montague with their “too little too late” declarations of brotherly love at the end and wish the Prince had done at least that.
The Coeurage Theatre production, directed by Jeremy Lelliott, is simple and lively. He set out to give us an authentic presentation that honored the “two hours’ traffic of our stage” spoken of in the prologue, and he succeeded. He is also to be commended for his courage in presenting the play in what seems a brand new, but also seems much more accurate, way.
The Coeurage Theatre Company is full of very talented actors. The depth and breadth of their portrayals are consistently good. Sammi Smith, a Ceourage regular, is Juliet and is absolutely a young woman in the throws of experiencing the new sensations of what happens to a woman’s body at that age. She is delightfully confused, witty, silly, smart, passionate. In short, a teenager. Quite an accomplishment for an actress who is past this tumultuous time in her own life. Jonas Barranca is also quite good as Romeo. He is just finding his manhood, the overpowering sexual urges, the clumsy but determined display of masculinity in the face of the judgement of his peers. He would rather be a poet than a fighter. “I do protest, I never injured thee, /But love thee better than thou canst devise, /Till thou shalt know the reason of my love: /And so, good Capulet,–which name I tender /As dearly as my own,–be satisfied.”
Mary Jo Kirwan is Lady Capulet and is a truly wonderful actor. She brings a truth to the bitterness, the love, the protection of her family, the understanding of her husband’s folly that is almost breathtaking. Lynn Ann Leveridge was as near a perfect Nurse as I have ever seen, and I have seen many productions of this play.
Noah Gillett brings his usual light touch to Friar Laurence, although it was a bit startling to hear him constantly referring to how old he is. Gedally Guberek is delightful as the dry comic relief, the servant, Peter. Deven Simonson is Mercutio and plays him with an almost overpowering lustfulness. He is a fine actor, but this time seems more intent on pushing the boundaries than living a life on stage.
There were three understudies the night I saw the play: Bill Doyle played Capulet, Perry Jackson was Paris, and Willie Fortes was Abram. All were good, especially Mr. Doyle who was appropriately blustery in the challenging roll. The rest of the large cast included Kristopher Lee Bicknell, Joe Desoto, Aimee Karlin, Graham Kurtz, TJ Marchbank, Jeffrey Masters, Ryan Miller and Lawrence Peters.
Michelle Stann designed the simple lighting. The authentic Renaissance costumes were designed by Karen Fix Curry.
Romeo and Juliet is performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 pm through May 20th, 2012.
The Actors Circle Theatre is located at 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, 90046, four blocks west of La Brea.
Tickets: Pay What You Can
Reservations online at http://www.coeurage.org/plays/2012-season/romeo-and-juliet