Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at Burbage Theater Co.

Burbage Theatre Co. Breathes Life into a Classic

By: Sep. 06, 2023
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Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at Burbage Theater Co.

While Shakespeare famously bragged that “Never was a story of more woe/Than this of Juliet and her Romeo,” the Burbage Theater Co.  set itself the task of revealing everything else the play contains. Their modern-dress production is dynamic, reveling in precisely-choreographed crowd and fight scenes, and making the most of the play’s witty dialogues.

The play rewards their exploration, since there is so much more than the adolescent romance for which it is famous in Romeo and Juliet. Politics are at play as the enmity between two of Verona’s most noble families, the Montague and the Capulet, roils the entire city to the point where its prince must intervene to declare a truce the two parties must honor—or face severe penalties. Respecting this peace, however, proves difficult well before Romeo Montague (Ben Pereira) falls for Juliet Capulet (Maggie Papa). In fact, that specific complication itself can only arise because young men cannot resist an adventure. Romeo and two close friends, Mercutio (Victor Machado) and Benvolio (Omar Laguerre-Lewis), decide to infiltrate a ball given by their enemy under the pretext of distracting Romeo from his infatuation with Rosaline. While the plan works a little too well when Romeo glimpses Juliet, it also resets in motion the two families’ quarrel. Tybalt (Eddy Tavares), Juliet’s hot-headed cousin, recognizes the interloper; he is barely restrained from immediately fighting with him, an impulse that will come back to haunt the play. No wonder then that Romeo and Juliet decide to keep their courtship secret, and to secure their marriage by a complicated plot meant to deceive their family—although it will end in the famed tragedy.

The cast brilliantly conveys the sheer aliveness of these doomed characters, making their unavoidable demise matter. The affection between Juliet and her nurse (Amie Lytle), or Romeo and his friends, shines so bright that these characters immediately gain our sympathy. The trio of Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio, in particular, gleefully deliver their lines’ many double-entendres with great comedic timing, razzing one another with the exuberance of carefree youth. With a great assist from the wardrobe department, Pereira immediately establishes his Romeo as a dreamy, imaginative teenager, leaving no doubt as to how close to childhood the young man still is, thus immediately endearing him to the audience.

Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at Burbage Theater Co.
Mercutio (Machado) teasing Romeo (Pereira) under Benvolio’s (Laguerre-Lewis) patient gaze

This makes him a fitting match for Juliet, interpreted by Papa as a bright creature of passionate feelings, by turns so innocent as to appear naïve, or brave to the point of impetuousness. Under the complicit eyes of Juliet’s nurse and Friar Lawrence (David Sackal), the two teenagers spin a whirlwind romance that elicits smiles at its unselfconsciousness. Even the music—at times suspiciously reminiscent of an Italian restaurant’s soundtrack—seems to remind the audience to relax, enjoy, and savor the moment.

On this richly-painted backdrop of animated, but ultimately harmless, street brawls, masquerade balls, and young love, the tragedy, when it strikes, feels all the more shocking. A solid supporting cast gives credence to the violence of the feud by bringing intensity to their moments of rage. Tavares, as Tybalt, vibrates with a male fury that feels barely contained. Lord Capulet (Andy Stigler), established as a generally benevolent father to Juliet, can nonetheless explode at the slightest provocation with utterly chilling violence.

Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at Burbage Theater Co.
The Capulets (Stigler as Lord Capulet and Tavares as Tybalt), seething with pride

The simple set, made versatile by the ingenuity typical of the company, contributes to the general unfussy atmosphere that helps this production avoid the ponderousness that can accompany a “capital-C” classic play. Immersive scenes using every means of accessing the stage contributes to creating a feeling of immediacy, in particular the masquerade scene in which the spectator feels almost part of the action. In all, this is a production that will make for a great introduction—or reintroduction—to Shakespeare for anyone looking to the theater for what is, quite simply, a great time.

 

Tickets are available online at https://www.burbagetheatre.org/ or call the box office at 401-484-0355.

Photo Credit: Andrew Iacovelli




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