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BWW Reviews: CapFringe13 - Faction of Fools Brings Playful Spirit to A COMMEDIA ROMEO AND JULIET


Faction of Fools offers a family-friendly excursion to Verona, Italy for their little corner of the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival. A versatile cast handles lightning fast costume changes, spirited physical comedy and an abbreviated twist on William Shakespeare's tale of star-crossed lovers for A Commedia Romeo and Juliet.

Presented by Washington's award-winning Commedia dell'Arte theatre company, Faction of Fools, A Commedia Romeo and Juliet is a grand showcase of the troupe's specialty and is an enjoyable hour-long adaptation of the tragedy.

Faction's full-length version of their Commedia R&J was a critical and audience favorite in 2012. Adapted by Paul Reisman and Faction of Fools artistic director Matthew R. Wilson, the show contains good chunks of Shakespeare's text. The other portions really aren't missed and are taken care of by physical action and a galloping pace.

A Commedia Romeo and Juliet opens as a band of players arrives to perform a zany take on Shakespeare's play. This is not a send-up, however; it's the real deal, squeezed into a shorter running time and punctuated by clever lazzi. Gone is the gloom of tragedy and in is an atmosphere that that crackles with energy. The actors take on multiple roles with child-like glee - switching with a flip of a cape, a twist of a doublet or changing masks. Even their theatrical trunk gets in on the quick change act (like a magical puzzle box) adding to the playful atmosphere.

These conceits point up the brilliance of performing one of Shakespeare's best loved tragedies with a grand sense of play. Within the one hour traffic of the stage, the five performers keep things hopping, so there is never a dull moment. Even when the serious scenes are played, there is always some comic relief around the corner to lighten the mood. As certain characters die hilarious stunt double-props take their place.

Director Matthew R. Wilson's expertise in the classic form of improvisational comedy and his love for the Commedia form are evident throughout the production. This passion extends to the cast of A Commedia Romeo and Juliet.

Gwen Grastorf brings sincerity and simplicity to Juliet, while gamely jumping in as the Prince when needed. The Romeo of Shane O'Loughlin makes a straight forward love-struck young man. (I thought his flamboyant entrances and exits were a bit much, however.)

Faction of Fools associated artist Justin Purvis is a comic whirlwind in his roles, especially Mercutio. The actor also provides one of the show's most riveting theatrical moments. After the fatal duel with Tybalt, Purvis delivers Mercutio's famous "a plague on both your houses" speech, cursing both Montague and Capulet. Just before he dies, Purvis removes his Mercutio mask and sets it down. At that moment, every actor on stage focused on the mask and stillness hung in the air. In that instant, tragedy went from a concept to something tangible. Moments like those are why I go to the theatre.

Tyler Herman and Lindsey D. Snyder were equal to their colleagues popping in and out as Benvolio, The Nurse, Lady Capulet, Friar Laurence, and the others denizens of Verona.

The 60-minute length is palatable for just about any audience, which suits the no-frills Fort Fringe Shop performing space. There is really no time to get antsy in your seat.

I can see why the original would have been a hit and why schools should look into booking this version. Not only is the 60-minute version at Fringe, Faction of Fools offers it as touring show to schools and other venues.


Capital Fringe 2013 - at Fort Fringe, the Shop, 607 New York Ave NW, WDC 20001

Directed by Matthew R. Wilson and featuring Gwen Grastorf, Tyler Herman, Shane O'Loughlin, Justin Purvis, Lindsay D. Snyder.

Running time: 60 minutes. Suitable for all audiences.

Performances: July 11, 14, 20, 21, 24, 26 and 28 - times vary. The performance on Sunday, July 28 at 6:30 pm will be ASL interpreted.

Go to Capital Fringe: A Commedia Romeo and Juliet for more details.

For tickets, Fringe button, directions and other information, go to

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From This Author - Jeffrey Walker

Jeffrey Walker contributed reviews and features for the Washington, DC region and the Virginia region for Broadway World since 2012. He currently writes for DC Theatre Scene. Jeffrey is an experien... (read more about this author)