Out for an evening walk, you suddenly find yourself in an unfamiliar, graffiti filled alleyway, where you stumble across a ragtag troupe of gypsy street performers who invite you to sit and listen to their tale of tribalism and star-crossed young love. Such is the feeling you have as you settle in and give yourself over to this modern-dress yet faithful production of Shakespeare’s timely and enduring “Romeo and Juliet”.
Guest director, Dámaso Rodriguez doesn’t hide the artiface of theatre; from the use of the entire ensemble being on the edges of the action at all times to the announcements of time and place, to props magically appearing and being handed to the actor at just the right moment, the audience is always aware that these are actors telling a story. What is so refreshing about this piece is the delicate balance Rodriguez creates of theatricality without sacrificing the raw emotion of the characters. In fact, in this bare bones approach, as Rodriquez explains, “the play exists in the telling, rather than the trappings.” And it succeeds beautifully. But this seemingly stark re-telling is actually achieved through brilliant production design that is so exquisite in its subtlety as to truly make you feel as if you are simply witnessing this spontaneous happening.
There are so many moving parts with every member of the ensemble used to maximum effect, whether it is helping to set the scene, giving dramatic, rhythmic underscoring by drumming on the alleyway dumpsters or playing dual roles; A Noise Within truly exemplifies what it means to be a repertory company. Will Bradley, last seen giving a fantastic performance in Figaro, is almost unrecognizable as the brooding, young Romeo. Bradley takes his Romeo from youthful posturing to a desperate, even mad love with abandon and unmitigated passion. The object of his passion is played by Donnla Hughes with innocence, grace and intensity. Your breath is held as perhaps the most famous of all Shakespeare scenes approaches; the balcony scene, as how does one recite lines that everyone knows and somehow make them fresh? In the hands of Bradley and Hughes, it becomes a discovery or rediscovery of that rush and deliciousness of first love. The scene is at turns funny, familiar and exhilarating. Their post lovemaking scene is pitch perfect in its sexy playfulness, which makes their tragic end all the more devastating.
Rafael Goldstein is an hilarious, dangerous and always engaging Mercutio. His performance is as exciting as it is gut wrenching. Alan Blumenfeld as Capulet is an all too realistic father who goes from jovial to enraged on a dime and whose utter disgust for his daughter’s disobedience reminds us of just how high the stakes are for Juliet. June Carryl is outstanding as Juliet’s nurse and co-conspirator. She is one of the actors double cast and also does a fine job as the outraged authority figure, Prince Escalus. The cast is rounded out with stellar performances by a charismatic Amir Abdullah as Paris, Christian Barillas playing an impassioned Tybalt, Robertson Dean as the kind hearted Friar Laurence and the always fascinating Jill Hill as Lady Capulet.
In our current social climate, where questions of tribe and prejudice are forefront in our discourse, this production strikes a chord and is accessible to younger audiences who will see themselves reflected in dress and demeanor as well as in the yearnings and idealism of the young protagonists. However there is much to reflect upon for both young and old in this thoroughly entertaining and provocative “Romeo and Juliet”.
See Romeo and Juliet at A Noise Within, running in repertory with “You Never Can Tell” through May 8. For tickets and info: www.anoisewithin.org 626.356.3100. Located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107