Plano — The season of Shakespeare (two concurrent Romeo and Juliets with at least two more major productions of the same play on the horizon) kicks off with a kiss-kiss-bang-bang version of Shakespeare’s story about Juliet and her Romeo at Fun House Theatre and Film.
It should be no surprise that the good folks at Fun House have put together a marvelous version of the Bard’s first great and one of his most adored tragedies. Their 2013 Hamlet was one of the best live theater treatments of that play I have ever seen. Fun House’s nifty trick is that they mount professional-quality productions using “the next generation of creative artists” (read: teens and youths).
Many of the same actors return for R&J and Founding Partner/Creative Director Jeff Swearingen is back at the helm. Swearingen’s vision is typically tight and hyper detail-oriented. He benefits by a magnificent set (Clare Floyd DeVries) of Elizabethan building facades peopled by actors in period costumes (Eric J. Criner) and accompanied by a “live improvised underscore” by Thiago Nascimento. The aesthetic is not unlike a perfectly composed live action painting. Mick McCormick’s stage combat and fight choreography add a lovely, tense realism to the tragedy.
Swearingen also uses his special knack for pacing (appropriately swift), and helps his young actors understand what they are saying so that they can convey meaning while maintaining the proper iambic pentameter.
Another hallmark of Swearingen and Fun House creations is the talent they are able to develop from top to bottom. The whole ensemble is excellent but the play turns on the performances of the titular lovers (Doak Campbell Rapp and Taylor Donnelson), Mercutio (Chris Rodenbaugh) and the Nurse (Kennedy Waterman). Rodenbaugh was a resplendent Hamlet a few years ago and brings much of that nimble-footed fire to Mercutio. His “Queen Mab” speech is a tear-inducing tour de force.
There is just enough age-appropriate chemistry between Donnelson and Campbell to make them believable as the star-crossed duo. Campbell shows his dramatic range in his ability to handle the young lover after playing the aged tyrant Claudius in Hamlet. Waterman shines in every scene in every play she is in and she is perfectly cast here as the nattering Nurse.
The march of many Romeo and Juliets has begun. Let’s hope the others can come half as close to matching what these kids are doing.