Theater review: 'Romeo and Juliet' from Orlando Shakespeare Theater

The professionalism of Orlando Shakespeare Theater was on display Friday at the opening-night performance of "Romeo and Juliet" when an injured actor meant artistic director Jim Helsinger had to take on a role halfway through the show.

The actors kept their cool and didn't let the substitution rattle them in the more-intense second act of Shakespeare's story of doomed teen love.

But under the direction of Thomas Ouellette, this take on "Romeo and Juliet" feels as though it's trying to be all things to all people, making for many entertaining moments but an unsatisfying whole.

Want to draw purists? Have traditional sets and costumes. What about the kids? Throw in modern pop songs. What about those who find it too depressing? Force the comedy at every opportunity.

Yes, comedy. It's easy to forget with the famed tragic ending that there's a lot of humor throughout "Romeo and Juliet," and often bawdy humor at that. But the Shakes doesn't let the audience forget it for a second, working to wring laughter out of even the meekest of lines. Eventually, the comedy stops feeling organic to the characters and takes on the sense of "Somebody thought this would be a good spot for a cucumber-as-phallic-symbol joke."

Even the audience seemed confused by the tone Friday night: A highly dramatic moment in which Friar Laurence slaps a desperate Romeo, on the verge of a breakdown, drew laughs as if it were the "Get a hold of yourself" scene from the old movie "Airplane."

And underneath the crude humor, especially when the young men of the warring Montague and Capulet families are involved, should be an air of danger. These kids — 14th-century Italy's answer to the Hatfields and the McCoys — hate each other. But here, all their sniping and jabbing comes across as just the setup for the next joke.

Music cues are jarring, as well. Though the characters dress in attractive period costumes by Jack A. Smith, they dance to pop diva Pink's "Raise Your Glass" at the fateful party where Romeo and Juliet meet. Later, Pink's mournful "Glitter In the Air" plays while Romeo broods like a young teen soap hunk waiting for his fade to commercial.

As Romeo, Michael Raver does a lot of brooding, and he has over-angsty teen melodrama down pat. Stella Heath brings more heft to the part of Juliet, her girlish coquettishness giving way to nerves of steel.

Anne Hering gives her sympathetic Nurse a jolt of good-time personality. And Geoffrey Kent, as Mercutio, has both comic flair and delivers the Queen Mab monologue with delightful fervor.

But eventually the laughter in the air overpowers any thought of tears. And as with the Montagues and Capulets, when comedy and tragedy fight one another, no one comes out a winner.

'Romeo and Juliet'

What: Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of 'Romeo and Juliet'

When: 7 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 15 and Feb. 29; in repertory through March 18

Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 e. Rollins St., Orlando

Tickets: $15-$38, military and student discounts

Call: 407-447-1700



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