“Romeo and Juliet” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ March 30, 2015


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Arizona Theatre Company publicity states that the company’s first production of William Shakespeare’s classic love story, “Romeo and Juliet,” “takes on a bold new theatricality under the ambitious and creative hand of award-winning director Kirsten Brandt and designer David Lee Cuthbert.”  It’s rare that such glowing marketing proves so true.

Re-envisioned by Brandt, Shakespeare’s classic dialogue and the familiar plot that includes jealousy, revenge, prejudice, and evil betrayal is intact as is the Verona, Italy locale but the time has been shifted from the 15th century to the 1960s.  This dramatic change influences the tragedy’s look and feel.  Youthful Romeo still falls madly in love with the beautiful Juliet.  The ill-fated affair still ends as we know it will but the ride is a rambunctious delight that finds more humor in the piece than usual while never undermining the play’s serious undertones or the horrific ending.

Costuming is outrageously bright and garish in the flagrantly overdone ‘60s style of excess while designer Cuthbert uses projections on an interesting alignment of screens that take us from place to place with choreographed precision that when coupled with Brandt’s brightly paced staging keeps the long play moving briskly as each plot detail is revealed with brilliant imagery on an ever changing stage.

Beyond the impressive visuals, ATCs “Romeo and Juliet” has a fabulous acting company who excel at making each character distinctive.  At the play’s conclusion, many audience members were heard praising this “Romeo and Juliet” saying it was funnier than they expected and that it was far more understandable than previous productions of the Bard’s works they had seen.

The production’s major strength beyond its interesting concept is a fine cast that makes each dramatic moment movingly sincere but finds much humor in the hypocrisy of the longtime feud between the Montagues and the Capulets that dooms Romeo and Juliet’s love since they come from the opposing families.

Boyish Paul David Story delivers a physically agile Romeo who is truly infatuated with Chelsea Kurtz’s delicate and beauteous Juliet who also possesses great courage as she goes with her adoration for Romeo.  The pair’s scenes together are touchingly intimate but explode with genuine romance.  Richard Baird has many fine moments in three roles as he helps unite the lovers.  Leslie Law is a wise but funny Nurse to Juliet and Kyle Sorrell plays the double role of angry Tybalt and phony Paris with stalwart conviction.  Others essay smaller roles with distinction.

“Romeo and Juliet” gives the classic love story a welcome dimension of contemporary relevance.  It continues through April 12.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: A

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