Dallas — In a year of many, many productions of Romeo and Juliet (we are up to four separate iterations of the play and counting), one would think that theatrical fatigue would have set in by now. Yes, of course, the 400-year-old play depicting celestially mixed-up lovers continues to delight audiences, especially on hillsides across various summer outdoor theaters, and will probably do so indefinitely. Yet, how much is too much in such a short amount of time? Sigh no more, Gentles, because director René Moreno and are putting on a version of the play that will make audiences fall in love all over again.
SD Artistic Associate Moreno, along with a perfectly cast ensemble, have crafted a vision of the Bard’s tragedy, although deceptively simple, that should serve as a creative benchmark for years to come. Mind you, some pretty music and costumes, and just the title of Romeo and Juliet would have packed ‘em in for the whole run, but kudos to everyone for extending themselves to reach for something higher.
The show starts out with booming, ominous voiceover of the prologue echoing off of Robert Winn’s lovely set of arches, a balcony (natch) and sun-washed façades that set a tone of danger mixed with vintage beauty. Claudia Stephens’ costumes of inspired period dress, elaborate head and hair pieces, and sumptuous dresses for the women, and tights and (distracting?) codpieces for the men match the traditional feel of the show.
It also does not take very long at all to notice a series of details such as the stylized and upright stances of the actors, or their on-point facial reactions (no slouching or bored poses waiting to deliver lines here) that signal a director who cares deeply about creating a complete vision.
The entire cast is fantastic and seem to possess the sort of deep knowledge of Shakespeare’s language and meanings that is necessary for success. Standouts include Mark Oristano’s imperious Prince, a silken-voiced Eric Devlin as Montague, Marcus Stimac’s imposing Tybalt, T.A. Taylor’s commanding Capulet, a handsome and appropriately vapid Blake Lee as Paris, Nicole Berastequi channeling Lady Macbeth as Juliet’s mother, and a hilarious Amber Devlin as the Nurse (a role that can be tiresome rather than funny in the wrong hands).
The titular lovers (Ricco Fajardo and Fiona Robberson), making their SD debut, are more than believable as the ill-fated duo who are definitely hot for each other (they cannot keep their hands to themselves in their marriage scene). I have enjoyed Fajardo’s versatile work in Prism Co.’s Galatea and in Tomorrow Come Today at Undermain Theatre and he does not disappoint here. The last time I saw Robberson was when she blew away the crowd (and critics) in 2011, when she was still in high school, in Easter (also at Undermain). Her performance is all raw emotion and youthful power indicative of Juliet’s teenage angst and ardor.
The star of this excellent production, though, is Jeff Swearingen as a black leather and metal Mercutio. His presence onstage is simply electrifying. From the “Queen Mab” speech, which is giddy, exciting, illustrative, and scary, to his nuanced and complex death scene, he steals the show (in a good way). This role is Swearingen’s SD debut; let’s hope we see him doing more Shakespeare in the future.
Sara J. Romersberger’s dance choreography is seamless and entertaining, and the always-dependable Jeff Colangelo provides thrilling and believable fight sequences.
My only quibble with the show concerns the audio. Some actors were seemingly screaming into their mics while others whispered in response, or the sound would kick in halfway through a long speech. I am sure all involved will work out the kinks with more practice and time with the equipment.
All in all though, this fantastic Romeo and Juliet will please even the hardest-hearted adamants who claim they just couldn’t see another go at young love. Molto bene!
» Romeo and Juliet alternates with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised]. Complete Works is performed Wednesdays-Fridays; and R&J is Saturdays, Sundays and Tuesdays through July 26.