There’s a lot of fine acting in Romeo and Juliet: Love Knows No Age, the current production at Wheaton’s Unexpected Stage Company.
The staging, by director/co-producing artistic director Christopher Goodrich, is adept; the concept is clear and “cute,” a word not meant to offend here. The set is clever, and you can’t beat the book.
… it’s enjoyable to watch Bales inject a touch of macho in Romeo’s tenderness and Schoonover’s girlish excitement over Romeo turn to panic when Paris (a likable Ken Lechter) is thrust upon her.
Except for a very few minor changes, it’s taken directly from the Shakespeare play of the same name—minus the subtitle.
The tale of the tragic lovers never fails to elicit tears in me, and the pointless violence always frustrates and angers. It was also fun to discover, yet again, a theater I (as a relatively recent transplant to DC) had been unaware of—especially one close to my house.
The audience, relatively small during the extreme heat of July 19, was appreciative of the performance. But excitement also seemed to revolve around the fact that the company, known for contemporary works, was tackling Shakespeare for the first time.
There is, however, a big BUT. It surrounds the concept of the play, which turns generations on their heads so that Romeo and Juliet are now septuagenarians in an adult community (aptly named Verona Village). Opposition to their unions comes from the Montagues and Capulets, who here are their adult children.
For me, at least (I gauged that most audience members didn’t agree), the concept has charm and humor, but doesn’t really work.
For one thing, it makes no sense for Capulet (played with the requisite hardness by Josh Adams) to be able to force his mother, Juliet (an absolutely lovely Claire Schoonover) to marry anyone. This isn’t a case of a demented parent being pressured to hand over an inheritance.
It is great fun—and all too rare —to see sparks between older lovers on stage. While their romantic scenes are tastefully done, the passion between Juliet and her Romeo, Elliott Bales (especially after their secret marriage, in modest semi-undress) is palpable and delightful.
While this is apparently the largest cast assembled thus far by Unexpected Stage Company, there aren’t enough people on stage to bring to life the feuds between the two families. Although it evokes laughter, the disconnect between the early “fighting” scene among the retirement community residents with such objects as a vacuum cleaner (and knives that are brandished but not used) does not “compute” with the later scenes of people being brutally stabbed.
Goodrich also does some slight “gender-bending” in casting Karen Fleming as Romeo’s friend Benvolio as a woman. Her soft concern for Romeo does work here.
Fight choreographer Casey Kaleba is to be commended for its realism.
Kristen Jepperson is impressively responsible for the set design, including a working (in the sense of lights indicating floors) mock elevator. It would have added, however, if the set varied somewhat with the action.
The costume design by Briana Manente is mostly everyday contemporary, except for a shimmering gown Juliet gets to wear twice.
The second part of the production was stronger than the first, in part because it is considerably more serious and in part because the scenes are more intimate.
Kecia A. Campbell covers all the facets of what is often the most-anticipated role—Nurse. Ted Schneider offers realistic compassion as Friar Lawrence, while Kim Curtis is properly malevolent not only as Tybalt but as the apothecary.
While the director’s message that intense love can happen at any time comes across loud and clear and cannot be argued with, the impulsiveness and desperation of the title characters later in life are less persuasive.
Still, it’s enjoyable to watch Bales inject a touch of macho in Romeo’s tenderness and Schoonover’s girlish excitement over Romeo turn to panic when Paris (a likable Ken Lechter) is thrust at her.
And again, while some of the actors speak Shakespeare’s language more trippingly on the tongue than others, the cast and director are to be commended for taking this step. I just wish, given their courage in going this far, that they had done this beautiful and beloved play “straight.”
The truth is, though, no matter how you serve it—in a contemporary Leonard DiCaprio movie, a Leonard Bernstein musical (West Side Story), or in a retirement home—and no matter how many bodies are piled up by the end, it’s pretty hard to kill enthusiasm for Romeo and Juliet. They’re always welcome.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Brief but graphic violence. Sexuality, but sensitively done. Appropriate for 16 and up.
Romeo and Juliet: Love Knows No Age runs through August 9, 2015 at the Unexpected Stage Company at Randolph Road Theater, 4010 Randolph Road, Wheaton, MD. The theater is donating 50 percent of ticket sales of the August 2nd matinee performance to The Dwelling Place, an organization that supports homeless families in Montgomery County, Md., in their pursuit of self-sufficiency. For information call 301-337-8290; for the box office (Brown Paper Tickets, call 800-838-3006, or click here.