What soft on yonder stage doth break— ‘tis Romeo and Juliet and Compass Rose Theater is its host. The timeless classic; the Bard’s original romantic tragedy carries on in a classic fashion upon the boards of Compass Rose’s stage. Directed by Lucinda Merry-Browne, there is lively fighting and extreme emotional expressions from a talented cast that keeps the audience captivated with this well-told tale.
Lighting Designer Megan Lang creates a layer of visual spectacle in the intimate space with her work, honing in on the shifts in time throughout the production. Using warm reds and yellows to signify moments of dawn and sunrise, Lang softens the moments of sweet-parting sorrow between the lovers with these gentle glows. Using darker purples and blue to shroud the stage in scenes of night or in Capulet’s tomb, Lang creates an impressive difference between these scenes, enhancing the aesthetic of the production.
With a hint of the Italian Renaissance present in Costume Designer Julie Bays’ work, the authenticity of ancient Verona shines through the performance. Bays’ finest outfit in this production is Mercutio’s fancy black frippery, making the character look as sleek as the attitude that comes along with it. Bays’ keeps Juliet’s dresses chaste and unadorned, symbolizing her youthful innocence. The overall look constructed in Bays’ costume design is one of simple elegance; allowing the performers to deliver the true meaning of the text not fettered down by elaborate outfit trappings.
Fight Choreographer Casey Kaleba finely hones the fighting scenes in this production into intense battles that look realistic. Giving the audience wave after wave of intense and climactic moments in the initial fight scene in the square, Kaleba uses advanced moves to heighten the calamity that arises between the dueling houses. The sword work used in these battles is of a professional caliber and looks horrifically authentic; timed to perfection with precise execution making the brawls and bloodshed look thrilling.
Director Lucinda Merry-Browne brings together a talented cast of actors for this production, letting the words of Shakespeare live and die in their heightened emotional performances. Casting young actors of an age appropriate nature for these demanding roles is a bold and daring risk that pays off exponentially under Merry-Browne’s skilled guidance. The play rolls along at a galloping pace, perfect for passing the time of the tragedy without glossing over anything important; feeling as if a story has been told rather than as if three hours have passed by.
Merry-Browne’s gender-blind casting leads to impressive performances all around, particularly from Brenna Horner as the Prince of Verona and Shaina Higgins as dutiful Benvolio. Horner delivers swift, albeit with heightened fury, justice in her speeches especially when it comes to separating the brawls of the Montagues and the Capulets. Her stoic approach with booming voice keeps that ever present anger bubbling just below the surface and really forces the audience to pay attention to her brief speeches. Higgins as Benvolio provides subtle moments of comic interruption in trio with Mercutio and Romeo, but her shining moment comes near the end of the production during her intensely woeful recounting of the events that led to the downfall of Mercutio, Tybalt, and Romeo.
Ever a confidant to Juliet, the Nurse (Renata Plecha) grabs the attention of the audience early on in the performance. With a kooky quiver to her voice, Plecha adds a doddering comic humor to the character, giving hints of levity in scenes that would otherwise be ruled by melancholy. Her concealed dithering when it comes to sexual innuendo adds a sophistication to the character’s delivery and makes for an ultimately amusing performance. Holding her own against the sassy and saucy Mercutio (Emily Kaye Lynn) Plecha manages to escape the encounter unscathed or at least no worse for the wear.
Emily Kaye Lynn is a show stealer, all eyes on her in the role of Mercutio, so much so that the audience begs for a rewrite of the masterpiece that would keep the character alive and thriving for more of Lynn’s impeccable performance. Slick and charismatic to a fault, Lynn’s portrayal of Romeo’s dear chum is charming and compelling. Prickles of mischief and sparks of vivacious energy fly from Lynn’s entire being during the notorious ‘Queen Mab’ speech, her body never at rest as she dashes all about the space giving an exhausting but wildly active rendition of this scene. Stealing the scene again during the orchard hunt for Romeo after the ball, Lynn executes flawless comic timing blended effortlessly into the metered delivery of Shakespeare’s text. A stunning performer, Lynn makes Mercutio a treasured favorite in this production.
The title characters, Romeo (Eli Pendry) and Juliet (Sydney Maloney) are portrayed with exceptional excellence in this production. Pendry balances the emotional discord of the generically whiny Romeo character in his virtually flawless delivery of Shakespeare’s text. There is something both smooth and eloquent about his stage presence, countered with sharp emotional outbursts during appropriate moments of despair and woe. The chemistry between Maloney and Pendry is instantaneous; the draw of their bodies, the way their eyes meet; bubbling and building long before they exchange their first words.
Maloney gives a dynamic portrayal of the generally mild character, creating emotional depth in her passions and grief over Romeo. She cowers not in the brutish temperaments of Lord (Dan Reno) and Lady Capulet (Maggie Robertson) but rather imbues her pleas with persistent emotional support. Fully encompassing the myriad of raging emotions that Juliet can be, Maloney gives this production a revitalizing energy, making it feel fresh as if Shakespeare had just penned it yesterday.
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours with one intermission.
Romeo and Juliet plays through April 20, ,2014 at Compass Rose Theater— 49 Spa Road, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 980-6662, or purchase them online.