AISLE SAY San Francisco


by William Shakespeare
Presented by California Shakespeare Theater
Directed by Shana Cooper
Bruns Memorial Amphitheater
100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda, CA / (510) 548-9666

Reviewed by Judy Richter

There's nothing quite like young love, especially as depicted by William Shakespeare in "Romeo and Juliet."

Focusing on that aspect of the play for California Shakespeare Theater, director Shana Cooper streamlines her production, starting with the title, condensing it to "Romeo & Juliet."

She then reduces the cast to seven actors, all of whom, except for the two leads, play multiple characters. Some minor characters are eliminated, and others are combined. Finally, she pares down the text to mostly good effect, speeding the action while holding the audience rapt.

The familiar story takes place in Verona, Italy, where two families, the Capulets and the Montagues, have been feuding for generations. Street brawls are common.

Hence when young Romeo (Dan Clegg), a Montague, and not-quite-14 Juliet (Rebekah Brockman), a Capulet, fall in love at first sight, there's not much hope for their romance. Nevertheless, they marry immediately, but because Romeo has killed one of Juliet's relatives, he's banished.

They have one night of bliss before Romeo must leave. When plans for them to reunite go awry, their next meeting leads to tragic death for both.

Both Clegg and Brockman embody the youthful impetuousness of their characters. Brockman is outstanding as her Juliet experiences a torrent of emotions.

Also representing the younger generation are Nick Gabriel as Tybalt and Paris, Joseph J. Parks as Mercutio and Arwen Anderson as Benvolio. Donning glasses, Anderson also appears as Lady Capulet, Juliet's mother.

Representing the older generation are Dan Hiatt and Domenique Lozano. Hiatt plays the kindly Friar Laurence as well as Capulet servant Peter and Lord Capulet, Juliet's father. Lozano plays Juliet's caring nurse and Escalus, prince of Verona.

Although Romeo's parents, Lord and Lady Montague, are relatively minor characters in Shakespeare's play, they don't appear in this version. Therefore, a short but crucial scene at the end is eliminated. In that scene, Lord Capulet and Lord Montague discover Romeo and Juliet's bodies and finally reconcile. They see how much their enmity has cost them.

Design elements enhance the production, starting with Daniel Ostling's spare set, which is open to the scenic vista behind the stage. Christine Crook's modern costumes require only minor changes as the actors switch characters. The sound and mood-setting music are by Paul James Prendergast. Lap Chi Chu's lighting is impressive. On opening night, for example, lights surrounding the stage and beaming upward during the tomb scene bounced off low clouds to create a brightly glowing circle overhead.

Dave Maier deserves credit for his ingenious, scary fight choreography.

For people seeing the play for the first time, this production is crisp, easy to follow, yet full of drama. Those who have seen the play many times will find much to enjoy and even discover because of director Cooper's insights and creativity as well as a first-rate cast.

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