BWW Review: ROMEO & JULIET at Shakespeare Theatre Company
Just ahead of Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) Artistic Director Michael Kahn's final season, Romeo & Juliet ticks all the boxes for an audience eager to celebrate. And there is a lot to celebrate! Celebrate Shakespeare, celebrate free Shakespeare, and celebrate Kahn at STC, while you still can.
Romeo & Juliet is the story of two young kids from warring families, who fall in love, and eventually commit suicide in a misguided attempt to be together forever. It is a cornerstone of our romantic culture and eponymous with young, unrequited love.
STC's Romeo & Juliet retains Shakespeare's original dialogue but plops the young lovers into modern-day Verona. Modern interpretations of Shakespeare tend towards heavy-handedness and low production value, which is why there are so many high school productions of Romeo & Juliet set in a high school. Done well, however, the "classic but modern" approach to Romeo & Juliet can be a light-bulb moment for theatre newbies and a happy surprise for theatre-buffs. And this adaption is done very, very well.
This production of Romeo & Juliet strives to make Shakespeare understandable, relatable, and entertaining for people unfamiliar with or intimidated by Shakespearean dialogue. They do this by scrapping all pretense to classical theatricality or historical accuracy in favor of modern mannerisms, costumes, and staging. Puffy breeches and ruffled collars are replaced by Euro chic club wear, and knife fights take the place of for stiff swordplay.
In an age where bearing your emotions stoically is as arcane as owning a fax machine, STC's interpretation of of Romeo and Juliet as angsty, overly dramatic, lovelorn teens hits the nail on the head and shines a spotlight on the over-the-top comedy of teen drama. In STC's clever hands, Shakespearean wit is for the masses once again.
Sam Lilja is a fresh-faced and sensitive Romeo with boundless energy and a penchant for moping. He is fun to watch because of the physicality and comedy he brings to the role of Romeo. He is support on stage by superb cast, including an impassioned performance by Danaya Esperanza as Juliet.
Jeffrey Carlson's flamboyant take on the mercurial and hotheaded Mercutio is exceptionally engaging. All told, I enjoyed Sebastian Chacon's turn as Benvolio the most. His winning smile and easy stage presence is a refreshing antidote to the heavy emotions onstage.
Scenic Designer Dane Laffrey's honors Shakespeare's insular, conceptual Verona, with a few funk surprises and a film noir vibe. A love-letter to crimson that captures the dualisms at the heart of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet with ominous overtones.
Romeo & Juliet at STC is a rare opportunity to take part in a bonafide DC tradition, enjoy a free night out at the theater, and most importantly, connect with Shakespeare.
ROMEO & JULIET runs through September 2, 2018 at the Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004. To learn more about Free For All and enter the lottery for tickets, click here.
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours, including a 20 minute intermission
Advisory: Strobe lights, and the use of violence and stage firearms