Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Romeo & Juliet
Independent Shakespeare Co.

Also see Terry's reviews of Taste and A Midsummer Night's Dream

Nikhil Pai and Erika Soto
I'll be honest: what initially appealed to me about Independent Shakespeare Co.'s Romeo & Juliet was that it condensed the play. The play is performed with only eight actors. Some of the actors double up on roles; sometimes the lines of one character have been given to another. Thus, for example, Benvolio also covers some key lines normally given to Balthasar. And, the actress performing Benvolio also doubles as Lady Capulet. In addition to paring down the company, the script is also shortened. The production clocks in at just over two hours (with intermission) and some rather obvious cuts are made. (Paris, for one, survives the play, although one might expect he'll need some therapy.)

But by cutting the play down, Independent Shakespeare Co. reaps the benefits of a sharper focus—as anything extraneous to its main purpose has been cast aside. The result is a Romeo & Juliet that is more emotionally effective than any I have seen in a very long time.

The intermission separates the play into two very distinct halves: the first, a light comedy, as we see Romeo and Juliet fall in love; the second, a tragedy, as the kids travel inexorably to their predestined deaths. The lion's share of this production's accomplishments are in its approach to the first act. I called Romeo and Juliet "kids" because they are—you genuinely believe this gum-chewing Juliet (Erika Soto) is not yet fourteen. She's bouncy and giggling; she's mortified when the Nurse (solidly played by Bernadette Sullivan) makes bawdy jokes at her expense. And when her mother puts lipstick on Juliet's lips (to dress her up for their upcoming party), she looks at herself in the mirror and smiles at the reflection of a real young woman. Nikhil Pai's Romeo, too, is just on the brink on young adulthood. Some actors approach the role of Romeo as transitioning from his silly childhood infatuation for Rosaline to true adult love for Juliet. Not so here; Romeo's affection for Juliet is still youthful infatuation. Pai makes this work with Shakespeare's text; when he tells Juliet "With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls," he shouts it—he's so full of passion, he just can't control himself, and revels in overstatement. As far as this production is concerned, the whirlwind courtship just emphasizes that they are crazy kids, young and stupid, and not thinking about consequences. And because of this approach, it makes their second act tragedy all the more painful. The first act ends with Romeo realizing, in the aftermath of Tybalt's death, "I am Fortune's fool!" and he is—circumstances have gotten ahead of him, and there is nothing left for him but to play out the rest of the tragedy we all know so well.

A program note indicates that the production intends to focus attention on the physicality of the play. Sometimes this works quite well. AndrĂ© Martin, as Mercutio and Lord Capulet, does a fine job of incorporating heightened physicality into his characterizations and still making it feel organic. Mercutio, for example, grabs a post with one arm and swings around it playfully—a perfect fit for the confident fellow. Others, particularly Lovelle Liquigan in the Benvolio/Lady Capulet combo, have a much harder time with it. After Lady Capulet learns of her daughter's (assumed) death, she repeatedly rocks her head back and forth with great rapidity—it seems more a symbolic grief than actual grief. It's a shame because it throws you out of the play, which, to that point, had been doing an impressive job of keeping the audience invested in a story it already knows.

Romeo & Juliet runs at the Independent Shakespeare Co. Studio in the Atwater Crossing Arts + Innovation Complex in Atwater Village through May 25, 2014. For tickets and information, see

Independent Shakespeare Co. presents Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare. Director Melissa Chalsma; Choreographer J'aime Morrison-Petronio; Set and Lighting Design Cat Sowa; Costume Design Daniel Mahler.

Kevin Rico Angulo - Lord Montague, Friar John
Lovelle Liquigan - Benvolio, Lady Capulet
André Martin - Mercutio, Lord Capulet
Nikhil Pai - Romeo
Evan Lewis Smith - Tybalt; Friar Lawrence
Erika Soto - Juliet
Bernadette Sullivan - Juliet's Nurse, the Apothecary
Xavier J. Watson - The Prince, Count Paris

Photo: Grettel Cortes

- Sharon Perlmutter