Romeo and Juliet
By William Shakespeare
Starring Joshua Goodridge and Isabella DeChard
Directed by Belinda C. Boyd
Theatre UCF, Orlando, FL
We all know this drill, so I’ll be quick. Hormone infused teens meet, fall in love and find their families have different ideas about mating. Its sweltering hot and bad decisions fester; cherries are popped that shouldn’t have, promises made that can never be kept, and then a stack of well-meaning bad advice crashes down on everyone’s so-called life. Yes, it’s that perennial favorite romance that I like to call: “R&J”
This particular version drops in on 1920’s Chicago gangland; the warring clans dress in snappy fedoras and suits. It’s implied the fight concerns territory, but that’s neither clear nor important. What is clear are the sharp musical numbers; we open with a rockin’ “Minnie the Moocher” complete with shimmying dancers and a singer clutching an old fashion dynamic microphone. Like all good romantic leads Goodridge was sharp and athletic, his Juliet (DeChard) was wispy and perky and all those other wonderful adjectives a young woman in love deserves. Paris (Mathew Buckalew) was distant and polite; he never seemed willing to fight for anything. Up until he died (tack on a spoiler alert on everyone on stage) he seemed a bit reluctant to marry into this dramatic family. Julian Kazenas stood out as a bitter and violent Tybalt, and our cross gendered casting pick tonight went to a bright and energetic Sami Cunningham as Benvolio. But the show stealer award tonight went to Waneka Leary as Nurse. She’s a woman who knows how to lead and audience to laughter and then get them to drink. She did every comedy gimmick from physical to word play to “lawdy, lawdy” material. I want to see more of her in upcoming comedies.
Act Two took a much darker turn, and not just from the pile of bodies. The music was largely gone, the flirtation of romance collapsed under the attack of family power politics, and even their lighting was dimmer and more moody. Oily Father Lawrence (Jarrett Poore) wiggled like a politician caught with his hand in the cookie jar when he realized the magnitude of his error, and even Romeo gets nasty toward the poor apothecary (Alexandra Pica) as he brow beats her into an illegal drug deal. The final straw came when one of the underlings fired the band. No more jazz for YOU tonight! The stage was a dream; old brick work that would have suited any hipster microbrewery lines the walls and a bridge rose and fell silently to form a high post for the high minded parts of the dialog. Those who insist on their Shakespeare neither shaken nor stirred might wince, but for an updated telling of an old story, this was like a shot of cheap gin in a high class low life dive.
For more information on Theatre UCF visit http://www.theatre.ucf.edu