Entertainment » Theatre

Romeo and Juliet

by Kay Bourne
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Oct 15, 2013
Julie Ann Earls and Jason Bowen
Julie Ann Earls and Jason Bowen  (Source:StrattonMcCrady Photography)

What a difference a moment made. They meet, then barely a week from when the wooing begins, sobbing seals the story for all eternity. "For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo."

Every twist toward the woeful inevitability of these star crossed lovers' tragic last embrace is made fiercely intense in the no-holds-barred, bawdy and blazing production of "Romeo and Juliet" at the Strand Theater.

Performed in the architectural style of the fabled wooden "O" where Shakespeare did his plays for two years, including "Romeo and Juliet" in 1597, the Dorchester theater has been reconfigured in like fashion by Actors Shakespeare Project. The seating encircles the action making it up close and personal. ("Romeo and Juliet" with Jason Bowen and Julie Ann Earls in the title roles continues at the historic Strand through Nov. 3.)

Now in its tenth season of bringing Boston audiences outstanding interpretations of the Elizabethan playwright, Actors Shakespeare Project potently interlaces the various elements of this comedy turned tragic: Quick paced and savvy direction (Bobbie Steinbach and Allyn Burrows). Volume-up acting from a terrific cast. Horrifyingly real knife fights (violence designer Trevor Olds).

JJulie Ann Earls and Jason Bowen  (Source:StrattonMcCrady Photography)

Imaginative scene design evoking the medieval city with the sort of banners that likely hung from those gray stone walls (Janie E. Howland). Lighting design that isolated moments importantly (Jeri Rock), bright bursts of heralding music and bandstand music for the partiers dancing the gavotte (Arshan Gailus sound designer and Susan Dibble choreographer) , and costuming unique to the character’s personalities yet of a period from years past (Kathleen Doyle).

All of these fundamentals are mixed into a brew for transporting you to a time and place of long ago, yet in its story-line resonant of today as well.

Shakespeare’s story of young people who fall madly in love despite the animosity of their families to such a union is staged often and is perhaps as popular to do as "Hamlet" written much later in the Bard’s career. She’s 13, he’s, perhaps, 20.

Yet the story done right, as it is in this mounting, always seems fresh, maybe particularly so in this city of ours which is quite like Verona plagued by tribal frictions and the too quick tempers of youth on the streets.

Jason Bowen and Julie Ann Earls  (Source:StrattonMcCrady Photography)

Little wonder that Juliet spots the hunky Jason Bowen as Romeo across the crowded dance floor. The buff actor is ripped (making the honeymoon scene really hot!) but it’s his acting chops that carry the night as he moves emotionally from being one of the boys who falls in love at the sight of most any pretty girl to a commanding figure who is resolute and purposeful and totally committed to Juliet.

Julie Ann Earls makes a sprightly Juliet, more ardent and moody than is sometimes portrayed, and with more backbone than one would expect of a cherished only child usually dutiful to her parents and nurse. Her articulation of the Early Modern English poetry Shakespeare writes is exceptional.

There is chemistry between the two and they give intelligent and passionate voice to passages we now hear anew. Ben Rosenblatt as a rather stuffy, full of himself Paris is a perfect foil to their lustful romance.

Maurice Emmanuel Parent and Jason Bowen  (Source:StrattonMcCrady Photography)

Critics over the centuries have wryly commented that Shakespeare necessarily had to kill off Mercutio before the endearing character stole the play from the more stolid Romeo. And with Maurice Emmanuel Parent’s exuberant portrayal of Romeo’s dearest friend, we see the reason for that observation. Parent is irrepressible, dashing across the stage and, yes, up the aisles as well, always with the bright remark and tweak to Romeo’s earnestness.

Omar Robinson is suitably menacing as Tybalt, while Paula Langton brings a bawdiness to the role of the Nurse that is amusing while also conveying a sense of the Nurse being a working class person which heightens our interest in the character.

Ken Baltin as Juliet’s domineering father skillfully plays the pater familias who rules the family as if he owns the other people in it. Miranda Craigwell sweeps elegantly through the play as Juliet’s mother, bending into a more fragile creature at her daughter’s death.

Antonio Ocampo-Guzman as Friar Lawrence gives the priest a humanity that makes the marriage he performs between Romeo and Juliet much more meaningful than the Las Vegas quickie it can be seen as; this couple in love seem truly bound together for eternity in the eyes of the church as well as in their hearts.

Buried with the couple’s death is the warring parents’s strife. Would but Boston take a page from their reconciliation seems the message the Actors Shakespeare Project sends out from the Strand’s stage.

William Shakespeare’s "Romeo And Juliet" runs through Nov. 3, 2013 at the Strand Theater, 543 Columbia Rd, Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. For more info and tickets please go to www.actorsshakespeareproject.org.


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