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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Brilliant Production of Shakespeare's
Romeo and Juliet

Also see Richard's review of A Minister's Wife


Rebekah Brockman and Dan Clegg
Seven actors walk onto a bare stage dressed in semi-grunge outfits. And so begins an enthralling presentation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. I thought I had seen the Bard's classic in every conceivable form, from modern to a production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year that took place in 1845 California. However, California Shakespeare Company and director Shana Cooper (OSF's The Unfortunates) are now presenting a streamlined, no holds barred version. Somewhere between a quarter and half of the traditional text has been deleted. However, the play is concentrated and races the narrative, as if things are spinning out of control. This is a fresh and exciting production.

Shana Cooper uses a text-based method right out the Elizabethan theatre to verbally move the audience from imagined location to location on Daniel Ostling's propelling platform set. Almost every scene that doesn't advance the story has been cut. Most of the longer speeches have been pared down also. What has been lost in framework and ardent impact is made up for in pure immediacy and teen passion. The director actively enlists the audience's imagination at the start of this two hour and fifteen minute with intermission production.

I am reminded of how the Globe in London would stage their productions with a minimum of props such as a bed, a trapdoor, a moveable wood staircase for the balcony scene. Behind this outdoor stage are nature's rolling hills with beautiful trees brilliantly lighted in certain scenes by Lap Chi Chu.

Outstanding performances are presented by an incredibly versatile cast of three women and four men playing some twenty roles. Rebekah Brockman gives an engaging performance as Juliet. She transforms beautifully into an aggressive 14-year-girl throwing herself into a newfound romance. Dan Clegg brings charm and skill to his performance as Romeo. He emerges a genuinely tragic figure in the tomb scene. He is a modern-day version of one of the star-crossed lovers.

The production ultimately rests on the skills of Dan Haitt, who is on stage nonstop playing Friar Lawrence or quick-changing into Lord Capulet and then resurfacing as the servant Peter. He gives a flawless performance in each of these roles. Arwen Anderson gives an impeccable performance as Benvolio, the timid Lady Capulet, and as members of the ensemble. Nick Gabriel is perfect as hipsters Tybalt and Paris. Joseph J. Parks give a tremendous portrayal of the unrelenting and libidinous Mercutio. Domenigue Lozano excels as the compassionate Nurse and Prince.

Erika Chong Shuch's exuberantly quirky, inventive choreography is imaginative, as is Dave Maier's amazing fight scene, with alternating fast-forward and slow-motion dagger combat.

Romeo and Juliet runs through July 28th at the Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Way, just off Highway 24, one mile east of the Caldecott Tunnel, Orinda, California. For tickets call 510-548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org. Coming up next is Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan.


Photo: Kevin Berne


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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