BWW Review: Group Rep Presents a Fresh Perspective on ROMEO AND JULIET

BWW Review: Group Rep Presents a Fresh Perspective on ROMEO AND JULIET

Romeo and Juliet/by William Shakespeare/directed by Shira Dubrovner/choreographed by Stan Mazin/Group rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre, NoHo/through October 14

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has been in our repertoire of must reads and must sees since high school. We know the storyline of the star- crossed lovers, which formed the basis for the musical West Side Story. The play treats of hatred between the Montagues and the Capulets. Because of the senseless family feuding, lives are lost and somehow love has gone astray. I enjoy seeing Shakespeare done in the traditional mode with 16th century sets and costumes, but am totally open to reimagined productions, as long as the poetry is in tact and the time period to which the story is assigned makes sense and shows the theme and message with clarity and intelligence..Group rep's current production directed quite nicely by Shira Dubrovner takes the audience to Berlin in the 1930s when Hitler took control and slaughtered or banished Jews from Germany.

Romeo (Mike Bingaman), a Montague, is also a Nazi. Juliet (Savannah Schoenecker), a Capulet, is from a rich Jewish family, opposed to Hitler and the new regime. All of the hatred of the era, the violence and disruption of family traditions clearly works with authentic black and white background projections of the people in peril adding to audience understanding. There is a deeply felt connection and gut reaction to this, one of the most horrific times in world history.

BWW Review: Group Rep Presents a Fresh Perspective on ROMEO AND JULIET

I will dispense with much of the plot of R&J as most of you know it by heart. Instead I will aim to spend more time hashing out the production values, especially the fine acting and direction. Bingaman and Schoenecker really fill Romeo's and Juliet's shoes, not at all an easy task in any production. The balcony scene becomes a romantic lovefest for both actors who savor every joyful moment. Adding to the scene is the presence in the window of the Sabbath candles, displaying the Capulets' sense of religious values. Schoenecker is particularly wonderful as Juliet in her romantic fervor but more urgently in her extreme loyalty to Romeo even when he is banished for killing Tybalt. The murder causes the moral Capulets to turn against him. Juliet's Nurse, here referred to as Bubby (Janee Hull) upholds the family honor, yet still caters to her charge's feelings and needs. Hull is dutiful, sincere, beautifully delicate and emotionally charged in every scene. Friar Lawrence is Gypsy Lawrence (Mark Atha) who construes a plan to take Juliet away from a loveless marriage to Paris (Ashkhan Aref), upon which her parents insist ( Patrick Burke, Belinda Howell). However, as we know, his plan goes awry. Romeo is not warned of the scenario, so when he finds Juliet asleep in the burial vault, he thinks her dead and kills himself. Juliet awakes, and upon seeing her lifeless Romeo, takes his dagger and ends her life. It's a tragic ending where all the family gather for the double funeral; in this case they are now prisoners of the Nazi regime, helpless to maintain community and religious values.

BWW Review: Group Rep Presents a Fresh Perspective on ROMEO AND JULIET

Dubrovner establishes a fine pace throughout allowing the action to move along splendidly. Her blocking fills the stage completely. Another standout in the cast is Kyle deCamp as Mercutio. He keeps the character energetic and devilishly fun-loving, making him a totally likable character. Then there's Kristin Towers-Rowles as Rosaline. She opens the show with a Marlene Dietrich-like rendition of "Falling In Love Again", returns for the ball scene with another song and dancing with the other guests to choreographer Stan Mazin's finely tuned steps, and then totally disappears. She should be in the finale, like the MC in Cabaret. Such a talented and resourceful lady, Miss Towers-Rowles!

The creative team including Cheryl Crosland's excellent period costumes and the simple set design, unattributed, with billowy white curtains and set pieces like Juliet's bed, moved on and off with appropriate efficiency, are to be lauded.

This is certainly not my favorite rendition of Romeo and Juliet, but it does work and the ensemble and director are to be commended for their fine work. Go see it through October 14!

www.thegrouprep.com

(photo credit; Doug Engalla)

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