Friday, November 27, 2015

Review: Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet, produced by Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, featuring Akeem Davis, Victoria Rose Bonito, J Hernandez, JJ Van Name, James Tolbert. Reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield.

Review: Romeo and Juliet


By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

At its core, Romeo and Juliet, currently receiving a conceptually odd but effective treatment by Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, is all about the irresistible-force paradox: What happens when such a force meets an immovable object? If the force is teenage hormones and the object entrenched parents, the result, as observed by every English-speaking generation since 1597, is guaranteed to be messy.

But this Romeo and Juliet, messy in almost all the wrong ways, somehow gets its young lovers and their terrifying frenzies just right. JJ Van Name's Nurse and James Tolbert's Friar Laurence aren't helping the pair out of a sense of empathy, but rather just to get them to calm down. By the time Laurence smacks Romeo a little too hard, the kid has earned it.

This production's troubles are mostly related to the design team. Its place and time is poorly defined - my best guess is that it occurs roughly now, and possibly in an urban setting, though Dirk Durossette's gray palette, red curlicued balcony, and chain-link fences could be anywhere. Contest-winning sonnets recited between scenes are sweet, but they detract from director David O'Connor's themes. Vickie Esposito's costumes look cheesy: ill-fitting, fast-fashion stretch pieces. And aside from the bass thrum Romeo and his pals hear outside the Capulets' house party, Michael Kiley's sound design, especially during the boys' battles, recalls synthesizer-filled street-fighting video games, not a bad joke, but wrong for O'Connor's tone.

Maria Shaplin's lighting, however, fights this chaos, suffusing the exterior of the party with a come-hither red, or bathing the lovers in a soft glow. And when this production succeeds, everything else becomes background noise. J Hernandez's hair-trigger Mercutio and Dan McLaughlin's bro-style Tybalt operate beyond reason and impulse control. And even if Victoria Rose Bonito's Juliet and Akeem Davis' Romeo look slightly too old, their burn threatens everything in its path and frightens the adults. Only Isaiah Ellis' mild Benvolio resists being swept up in everyone's passions, and once Mercutio swats him to the floor, even he succumbs.

O'Connor's Romeo and Juliet goes fast and furious until it has no choice but to flame out, but Bonito and Davis show just how hot the fireball's center can get.

Through May 18 at Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St. Tickets: $10-$35. 215-496-8001 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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