Theater: “Romeo & Juliet” at the American Shakespeare Center

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From “feel good” (Anything Goes last night at the Kennedy Center) to “feel lousy” (Romeo & Juliet at the American Shakespeare Center). Quite a contrast. Last night: everyone singing and dancing for the finale. Tonight: the bodies of star-crossed lovers litter the stage, with weeping parents draped over them. A nice balance?

We all know how the play turns out, right? Romeo doesn’t get the letter so he thinks Juliet is dead, so he kills himself with poison; when she awakes from the sleeping potion and finds him dead, she stabs herself. No surprises there. But there ARE some surprises in this production of an otherwise depressing play. (No need to remind me that the reconciliation of the Montagues and the Capulets as a result of these deaths provides some hope for the future; I’m aware of that, but skeptical.)

So, for the surprises: As tragic as the second half of the play is, there’s quite a lot of comedy in the first half. I loved the scenes of banter among Romeo and his pals. And I also loved the scenes with Juliet and her nurse. One reason why the scenes with the nurse are so entertaining is that the director chose to have the nurse played by a man (Ben Curns), who is hilarious in drag. A very nice touch.

The performances generally are outstanding. Really excellent. As Romeo and Juliet, Dylan Paul and Tracie Thomason give the play tenderness. The animus comes from their fathers, primarily: Capulet played by Rene Thornton Jr. and Montague played by Ben Curns. Their wives, played by newcomers Lee Fitzpatrick and Emily Brown provide the emotion. And, as always, the music before the show and during the interlude is fantastic. I come early because I hate to miss a note of the pre-show music.

Highly recommended!

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