Review: ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at The Media Theatre

Two households, both alike in dignity
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean….”

Delaware County’s Media Theatre continues its current season with a production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Playing in the company’s State Street venue through February 19th, the production is also being offered to local school students at special weekday performances.

Lexi Gwynn and Brandon O'Rourke. Photo by Maura McConnell.
Lexi Gwynn and Brandon O’Rourke. Photo by Maura McConnell.

Believed to have been written between 1591 and 1595, Shakespeare’s story of star-crossed lovers has remained a favorite, receiving numerous stagings throughout the world and several film adaptations. The story deals with two families — the Capulets and Montagues — who have been feuding for years. At a masked ball held by Capulet, his daughter Juliet meets and falls in love with Romeo, Montague’s heir. The two meet secretly and marry with the aid of Friar Laurence; shortly after, tragedy ensues….

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Director Bill Van Horn has gathered a multi-generational cast to tell this timeless love story. He keeps the pace brisk, moving from scene to scene nicely. However, at my performance, too much of the dialogue was delivered at a rapid speed, preventing the audience from savoring the beauty of the Bard’s words.

Nicholas L. Parker and Luke Brahdt play Romeo’s friends Mercutio and Benvolio, respectively. Brahdt is interesting to watch and brings variety to his role handling the comedic and the tragic with equal dexterity. Mercutio is a jokester, but his wit is cerebral, academic. Mercutio is a smart man; he can cut his enemies to the quick with his wit. Van Horn has Parker playing him like a buffoonish frat boy, which I found off-putting.

An ensemble of six fills a variety of small roles. They are Nicholas F. Savarine (who brings vast experience and a beautiful voice to the production), Thomas Lock (an earnest Sampson), Gavin Whitt (Abraham), Gigi Furlan, Josiah Jacoby and Hannah Brannau (servants). The two young women also serve as a chorus to provide narration at various points in the story.

A quartet of solid actors play the parents. Anthony Marsala and Hillary Parker are both strong as Lord and Lady Capulet, convincingly showing us the pressure of dealing with a headstrong teenaged daughter. The Montagues are played by Michael Fuchs and Marissa Barnathan; though they have fewer scenes, those scenes ring true. Fuchs has studied with Shakespeare & Company in the Berkshires, and it shows. Hedgerow Theatre’s Susan Wefel gives the audience some wonderful comic relief as the fifth “parent” — Juliet’s beloved Nurse. Tapping into her long training in the classics, Wefel also touches the heart in the more dramatic moments as well.

Lexi Gwynn and Brandon O'Rourke. Photo by Maura McConnell.
Lexi Gwynn and Brandon O’Rourke. Photo by Maura McConnell.

Count Paris is portrayed as an ineffectual fop. This is a viable option, but showing him as charming and suave would be more believable. (After all, Juliet initially agrees to marry him!) Actor Geoffrey Bruen does give it his all. His best moments are in the tomb after Juliet’s death. A very tall and sleek fellow, Grant Struble is an imposing figure as the Prince. He does well and commands attention, but his “All are punished” speech could have used more fire and more disgust at what these two families have brought upon the city. John Morrison brings the most variety and naturalness to his portrayal of Friar Laurence. He clearly loves the language and the joy of having it roll off his tongue.

Brandon O’Rourke and Lexi Gwynn take on the title roles. In the right age range (Shakespeare tells us Juliet is 14 and Romeo 17), O’Rourke and Gwynn are believable as boyfriend and girlfriend.. O’Rourke and Gwynn handle the complexities of the characters quite well, and I am sure they will gain more nuance as they explore these two as the run continues.

On the technical side, Matthew Miller’s scenic design allows things to flow, but I found it a bit confusing. Upon entering the performance space, I was greeted by the partial exteriors of two “palazzos,” complete with Renaissance looking marble. However, in front of these are two rolling sets of modern scaffolding that are reconfigured to create various locales. As a result, it was unclear to me what time period the show was supposed to be set in. Steven Spera’s lighting creates appropriate moods, and Jennifer Povish’s costumes are well executed.

There is much to admire in Media Theatre’s first foray into Shakespeare. The cast is strong and I am confident that they will continue to find new moments as they explore this beautiful play. And with Valentine’s Day coming up, a classic love story is a perfect night out.

For never was there a story of more woe,
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo..”

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission.

Brandon O'Rourke and Lexi Gwynn.Romeo & Juliet plays through February 19, 2017 at The Media Theatre – 104 East State Street, in Media, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (610) 891-0100, or purchase them online.


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