By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Lantern Theatre Company’s Romeo and Juliet begins before it begins: fights on the street, stealthy comings and goings, women are grabbed, rich, high-born men are drunk and belligerent. Everyone is armed to the teeth—swords and knives—and then somebody says “Peace.” Yeah, right. What a place Verona is: feuds, duels and havoc will, as they say, ensue. The young star-crossed lovers will, through their suicides, teach their parents the need for reconciliation.
This old sad story is about two teenagers from warring families who have a moment of joy only to have things go terribly wrong through an agony of mistiming, mistakes, parental commands and just plain bad luck. It’s heartbreaking all over again.
Juliet is played by the lovely Nicole Erb—she looks like a younger Jennifer Garner—and has all the shining eagerness of a fourteen-year-old girl who is wildly, deeply in love. She bounces down steps, she moans about “old people” she has intense tearful tantrums defying her father (Leonard Haas) who wants her to marry handsome Paris (Jake Blouch who will reappear in a hilarious scene as the illiterate messenger and then again as the ferocious “fashion monger” Tybalt).
Unfortunately Juliet has fallen in love with Romeo who is something of a twerp as Shakespeare wrote him, and more of a twerp as Sean Lally plays him. Lally lacks classical diction and has a silly walk (presumably unintentional), all of which detract from Romeo’s tragic stature.
As Mercutio, Charlie DelMarcelle is superb (the Queen Mab speech is splendidly delivered) and as Juliet’s Nurse, Ceal Phelan is both lovable and exasperating, just as she should be. Juliet’s mother (K.O. DelMarcelle) seems excessively cold and supercilious, while Frank X as the Friar is both realistically human and elegantly Shakespearean simultaneously.
The mayhem of the plot as well as the mayhem of the place requires a fight director, and J. Alex Cordaro does his stuff, with the help of some very able actors who can convincingly fight very close to the audience in the very small arena that is the Lantern’s stage. The costumes, designed by Mary Folino, are handsome.
Lantern Theatre Co at St. Stephen’s Theater, 10th & Ludlow Sts. Through April 1. Tickets $20-36. Information: 215-829-0395 or www.lanterntheatre.org