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Romeo and Juliet

City Theatre's choices give this very familiar tale a welcome, fresh twist

Reviewed by Adam Roberts, Fri., March 9, 2012

Star-crossed lovers: Chelsea Bunn and 
Ben McLemore
Star-crossed lovers: Chelsea Bunn and Ben McLemore

Romeo and Juliet

City Theatre, 3823-D Airport, 524-2870
www.citytheatreaustin.org
Through March 11
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.

Its set isn't much to speak of – only a sparse series of two-by-fours layered across the stage with an ornamental wooden centerpiece just left of center and a platform for Juliet's balcony stage right. But in City Theatre Company's production of Romeo and Juliet, the setting is a different story.

The playbill identifies place and time as "Verona. Now, elsewhere," but director Jeff Hinkle's decidedly Argentine spin on Shakespeare's tragic tale of star-crossed love provides a fresh, welcome twist. While it can't be said with certainty that South America was on Hinkle's mind, one is easily convinced. For example, the incorporation of tango music and dance by choreographer Rose Mitchell (including a clever mingling of tango-infused gesture within a larger form reminiscent of contra dance) – coupled with stylistic costuming and scene change music – clearly point toward this same influence. The parallel beauty of Hinkle's interpretation, though, lies in the sense that it's not really so important whether we identify a specific location or era, which cements the timeless quality of the tale as the cornerstone of his production.

As Juliet, Chelsea Bunn brings a youthful exuberance to the role that is as refreshing as it is honest. Her approach is far from the melodramatic portrayals of Juliet that one too often observes, and her scansion smartly reflects the adolescent angle of her take on the character. Though perhaps less convincing on the whole than his counterpart, Ben McLemore's Romeo warms up throughout the evening. To an extent greater than his fellow actors here, McLemore does not bring the standard tenor of his character to the table, but instead an everyman spin on the role. His naturalistic acting is often convincing, if at times a bit nonchalant for the high stakes at play.

The true gem of the evening, however, is Lindsay McKenna's fantastic portrayal of Juliet's nurse. More than any other actress I've seen in this role, McKenna brings to vibrant life the quick wit and hilarity of her character while at once balancing it with a deep sense of duty and love for Bunn's. The ensemble, for the most part, provides commendable support for its leads, though oftentimes presents questionable choices, such as neglecting to "cheat" to the audience on too many occasions. At times, these peculiarities of physical acting serve to mar staging that could otherwise prove more satisfying. Nonetheless, the band of actors manages to provide performances so passionate as to counterbalance most of these shortcomings.

Yes, the production elements on the whole may be minimalist. But this choice helps to direct our attention to what are some truly unique and interesting interpretations of perhaps the most well-known play in the Western canon.

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