2023 Capital Fringe Review: ‘Only Love: A Fresh Cut of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet’ by Madeleine Smith (4 stars)

This 65-minute adaptation is all bravery, brevity, and levity.

What happens when you take away everyone BUT Romeo and Juliet in the classic tale of star-crossed lovers? In a barebones staging at this year’s Capital Fringe, Madeleine Smith’s Only Love: A Fresh Cut of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet takes an inspired, humanist approach to Shakespeare’s timeless tale of young love.

Smith’s adaptation is a 65-minute cut of the original Shakespearean text, with solely two actors, who play Romeo and Juliet. In a pre-recorded prologue and epilogue, eerie voiceovers of the actors’ voices play in place of an ensemble. In scenes where they typically have other scene partners like Juliet’s brother Tybalt, Romeo’s friend Mercutio, or Juliet’s trusted Nurse, the audience is the scene partner. And audience members in the front row hand over pre-set props.

When you don’t see the world they’re fighting against, and yet you’re also part of it, you feel connected to the world of Romeo and Juliet. It evokes the sad feeling that they are alone and have only each other. The effect of their warring families’ conflict is squarely on them, even in the opening scenes where love appears to conquer all.

This is a concept that is reliant on actors using their full selves to communicate the text. Both performers step up to the challenge, with lovely natural chemistry. There’s a lightly modern feel in their attitude, and both are skillfully alive with the verse, bravely allowing themselves to be vulnerable.

As Romeo, Stephen Kime exudes power: physically, vocally, and emotionally. He’s most enjoyable in the moments when he feels the love of the character. Anna Takayo’s Juliet is playful, innocent yet knowing, with bright eyes and a sweet voice that grows ever stronger. She has a long stretch carrying the show in the Friar Lawrence section, which makes you realize how much Juliet has to do on her own without Romeo.

For anyone seeking levity, brevity, and genuine love, it’s easy to fall deeply in love with Only Love.

Running Time: 65 minutes.

Only Love: A Fresh Cut of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet plays July 14 at 9:45 pm, July 15 at 3:00 pm, July 16 at 1:15 pm, July 20 at 8:45 pm, and July 23 at 1:30 pm at Sweet – 3rd Floor – 1050 Thomas Jefferson. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online.

Genre: Drama
Age appropriateness: Recommended for Children 13 + older

Director: Madeleine Smith
Playwrights: Madeleine Smith, William Shakespeare
Fight and Intimacy Director: Bess Kaye
Lighting Design: Ian Claar
Sound Design: MaeAnn Ross
Choreography: Jacklyn Rogers
Stage Manager: Jillian Riti
Romeo: Stephen Kime
Juliet: Anna Takayo

The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.


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