Romeo and Juliet Falls a Little Short

Romeo and Juliet

(reviewed for Theater Scene)

reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

With its beautiful set and strong ensemble, its a shame this production only has limited success!

The problem with doing a well-known play is simple, everyone knows it. Therefore, the audience comes in with certain expectations of what they are going to see. When those notions are altered, it can become unsettling. Unfortunately, despite a strong ensemble, Wheelhouse Theater Companies production of Romeo and Juliet, falls a little short in delivering a show that truly breaks through. It is not a poor production, but neither is it groundbreaking.

What happens when two star-crossed lovers meet on a fated night and fall madly in love? Can their love survive amidst two opposing households? These are the central questions and plot lines in this bittersweet romance. Does love truly conquer all? And what about the excruciating agony we feel when we lose what we love? The irony and pain in this play tug at everyones’ heartstrings making it the classic it is.

We all know the classic love story so well, that our ideas of what it should and shouldn’t be are set. before we even enter the theater. That makes the production companies job exponentially harder. The problem with cutting the scrip down to 90 minutes, which they do, is two-fold. You lose some of the beautiful popular language in the soliloquy’s and the story moves so fast that it gets confusing. When things move so quickly and actors have to double and triple play roles, it becomes chaotic and overwhelming. It gets difficult to follow all the character shifts and we spend too much time trying to figure out who’s talking, instead of getting enveloped into the story. The actor playing Tybalt, Benvolio, and Paris is especially hard to follow One minute he is a Montague and the next a Capulet. I spent most of the evening trying to figure out who he was talking as. Even though the costumes were slightly different for each character, It still looked like the same person and was thus confusing to follow. This is no fault to the actor himself as he copes the best he can with what is required of him.

The cast are a bunch of fine actors. Cary Donaldson plays Romeo. He captures Romeo’s youthful exuberance well. And his chemistry with Juliet, Rachel Mewbron is palpable. The two are electric on stage and carry the heart of the story passionately. Brendan Titley is delightful as Friar Laurence and is a scene stealer.

Directors Jeff Wise and Matt Harrington have a clear grasp of the language and the actors speak with conviction, but in normal voices. Sometimes actors give an affected performance because it is classical, often detracting from the beauty of the words. Gladly, that doesn’t happen here. Everyone communicates cleanly, honestly, and simply which enhances their performances. They do their best to cope with the mayhem of the play. Brittany Vasta gives us an exceptional scenic design and the set is gorgeous adding the romantic flair to the play. The costumes needed more distinction between characters

Sadly, I could have enjoyed the play a lot more if the theater itself wasn’t so unfathomably hot. Audience member were dripping with sweat when the show ended. I, myself, felt like I was going to faint from the heat. I hate to mention things outside of the production, but I feel I must. It really is the warmest theater I have ever had to endure and it made for an unpleasant experience. It is a definite barrier to the production. If you go see this, bring water and wear loose fitting clothes!

Romeo and Juliet plays now through July 9, 2016 at 354 W. 54th St.

Check Out Stet STAT!

Rape is a four letter word. Yet for the survivors, it is much bigger than that. Often, rape victims are blamed and re-victimized by society. This makes many incidents go unreported. This is especially true on college campuses, where rape has become an epidemic and rapists have largely gone unpunished. This weighted topic is the subject of Stet, a new play by Kim Davies. Based on a true story, the Abingdon Theater Company tells this troubling phenomenon powerfully.

The play opens with Erika, a journalist, receiving orders from her boss to cover a story about rape on a college campus. Erika reluctantly agrees to take on the assignment. One of the first girls Erika meets is Ashley. Ashley alleges that she was gang raped while attending a frat party. She has not officially reported the rape because she is deathly afraid of the harrowing repercussions that will surely befall her if she does. Erika encourages Ashley to name her attackers, but to no avail. Meanwhile, we meet Christina, an on campus advocate for victims. Christina is jaded and often feels that she is doing the best for the victims, by helping them cope with their experience, which often means not reporting the rape. Erika grows increasingly frustrated by the attackers going unpunished (as we all do) until it becomes to much to bear.

The statistics of girls that claim to be raped while attending college is staggering. But what’s more bothersome is that most of these cases go unreported. And rapists are free to do it again. Jocelyn Kuritsky plays Erika. Her emotional involvement and attachment grows over the course of the play. She takes us on her journey from a strictly professional journalist to a woman deeply invested in wanting justice for the victims. Kuritsky is a fine actor with real acting chops. We feel her passion and frustration throughout.. Dee Julien plays Christina, and at first she is this bubbly Pollyanna type. But as the play progresses we understand her more and more. Julien does a fine job revealing the inner mechanisms of Christina at exactly the right times.

As much as I enjoyed the production, I would be remiss if this article didn’t address the bigger issue’ how are we going to stop this tragedy, that is all too common, from happening? This isn’t just some play you go see and forget it or chalk it up to a “night at the theater”. It’s a call to action. In fact, Abingdon is taking action by donating some of the proceeds from ticket sales to benefit “Take Back the Night”, a movement to stop college rape. When, as a society, are we going to stop blaming the victims for their attacks? We must make it more safe for victims to report rape and support them rather than villainize them. Maybe then they will come forward and justice can begin to be served.

If this article gets you stirred up (as it should) go see Stet. It will give you a new outlook on this problematic issue that is plaguing women on college campuses. This is a well done, meaningful production that is truly theater that matters!

Stet plays now through July 10 at Abingdon Theater Company, 312 W 36th St.

The Healing Can Heal us All!

The depths of despair that drive someone to commit suicide must be overwhelming. But often it is the ones left behind, dealing with the aftermath, that are the most lost. Theater Breaking Through Barriers confronts these painful realities in Samuel D. Hunters’ new play, The Healing. This production has a raw honesty that is quietly compelling and utterly captivating.

What happens when four friends gather to pack up their deceased friends things after she has taken her own life? This is where the play begins and for the next 90 minutes we are all left to try to figure out just what led her to take her own life. We find out that Zoe, who just killed herself, is a Christian Scientist, who relies solely on her faith to heal her. She is also mentally unstable. often reporting hearing “angelic voices”. We soon learn that she has no real family, besides her four friends who bonded at a summer camp, that they attended while they were kids. They became friends because they all are disabled and therefore stuck with each other. However, all was not well at the camp A vicious woman named Joan ran the camp. Joan, a former Christian Scientist, abused the four by telling then such horrific things like if they prayed hard enough God would heal them of their disability. The four friends banded together and got the camp shut down.

The cast is well rounded ad each is strong in their own right. Shannon DeVido gives a stellar performance as Sharon. She is strong and fiery, yet vulnerable. She is clearly the leader of the group and her presence, to her credit, demands our attention. Mary Theresa Archbold offers some fine comic relief as Laura In a play about suicide, levity is needed and appreciated. Thankfully Archbold delivers some great comedy that breaks the tension. David Harrell does a fine job as Donald and offers consistent support to his cast mates. Jamie Petrone does a good job as Bonnie. Bonnie frequently puts her foot in her mouth and Petrone nails these times, which also provides some of the funnier moments.

My one slight issue with Hunters’ play is the ending moment. While I will not give away the ending, I will say that it doesn’t feel earned. As it is the play just ends and it is a bit unsettling. I hope that further revisions may provide fodder for a more satisfying finale.

That withstanding, The Healing is definitely a must see. We don’t get to see enough actors with disabilities on stage. But what’s remarkable is that their disabilities seem to fade away once the play starts and we are simply left with a group of talented actors taking us on a journey (just like in any other play). Simply, this is Off-Broadway at its finest!

The Healing plays now through July 16 at 410 W 42nd St.