Review: Actors' Shakespeare Project breathes new life into ROMEO AND JULIET

Production runs through June 2 at Roberts Studio Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts

By: May. 19, 2024
Review: Actors' Shakespeare Project breathes new life into ROMEO AND JULIET
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Many romantic tragedies have legions of loyal fans – none more so, however, than the most iconic story of ill-fated love of all time, “Romeo and Juliet.”

Indeed, more than 400 years after William Shakespeare wrote the tragedy about young lovers caught in the crossfire of their warring families, it remains one of his most popular and widely produced plays. Now, thanks to the fresh, modern take being given it by Actors’ Shakespeare Project, through June 2 at the Roberts Studio Theater in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, “Romeo and Juliet” proves to be more relevant today than ever. The ASP production – its first of the title in 11 years – is highly accessible.

Under the studied direction of Marianna Bassham, the production features an 11-member cast, several of whom, like Bassham, are ASP resident-artist company members. These include the always-worth-watching founding member Paula Plum as the Nurse, a very much grounded-in-the- present Esme Allen as Lady Capulet, the versatile Jesse Hinson as the Apothecary, and artistic director Christopher V. Edwards, impressive in his ASP acting debut, as Lord Capulet.

Rounding out the ensemble are Fernando Barbosa as Friar Laurence, Michael Broadhurst as Mercutio, Peter DiMaggio as Paris, Sandra Seoane-Serí as Tybalt, Jules Talbot as the Prince, and

Nicolas Zuluaga as Benvolio.

The fractured times we live in today – with people seemingly willing to do all manner of things to demonstrate their intense, unyielding loyalty to their respective causes – feed into what makes this production compelling. In the members of both houses, Montague and Capulet, audiences will probably recognize more than just theoretical foes—perhaps they will even recognize themselves.

The antagonists are our idols and our neighbors, civil servants, and the media. What Shakespeare is writing about is the danger of a society given over to blind tribalism, set against the story of a besotted couple with a boundless sense of joy, winningly played here by Evan Taylor and Chloe McFarlane as the titular characters and the very vision of young love.

For actors, Shakespeare is about mastering the language while at the same time remaining emotionally available and alive. In this talented company, first-rate work abounds and no one does that better than McFarlane, whose exquisite soliloquies are breathtaking.

Also breathtaking are the famous fight scenes, artfully staged by movement choreographer Ilya Vidrin. Saskia Martinez’s scenic design is reminiscent of 1970s TV-show sets. And that’s not a bad thing, either, as it allows the action to move up, down, and around a series of inter-connected platform blocks. The set’s deep pastel color palette, often an unfortunate Pepto Bismol pink, is mitigated by Deb Sullivan’s mood-setting lighting design. Costume designer Lisa Coleman has also outfitted the characters in well executed, contemporary garments that move between flowing and body-skimming.

In “Romeo and Juliet,” the true promise of joy represented by the star-crossed lovers is short-lived as the corrosive enmity between the Montague and Capulet families turns even their servants against each other. Only after tragedy cuts short Romeo and Juliet’s forbidden union do the families end their bloody feud.  It’s a cathartic moment, that ASP, while honoring and respecting the emotional impact of Shakespeare’s tragedies, revisits to give today’s audiences the   different ending they may wish for, making the profound loss a timely call to action to preserve beauty, innocence, and love.

Photo caption: Evan Taylor and Chloe McFarlane in a scene from Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Maggie Hall.


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