Sunday, July 20, 2014

Romeo and Juliet, Cleveland Shakespeare Festival

(Miranda Coble as Juliet and Cody Kilpatrick Steele as Romeo)

If you’ve ever watched a production of Romeo and Juliet and thought that the lead actors really didn’t look the age of their characters (13 for Juliet, maybe 16 or 17 for Romeo), then this staging by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival should be a treat.

Chronological purists will appreciate that Miranda Coble, a soon-to-be high school senior, plays Juliet and the not-much-older Cody Kilpatrick Steele is her main squeeze Romeo. Their evident youth gives the play a raw, adolescent quality that brings a freshness to the familiar yarn of a terminal teenage crush, even if their line readings sometimes tend to be a tad abrupt and un-nuanced.

Older actors handle most of the other parts, such as Robert Hawkes as the helpful yet conflicted Friar Lawrence and Carol Laursen as a fairly one-note, grumbling Nurse.

But director Tyson Douglas Rand allows his actors to bulldoze many beats, squashing many familiar moments. Indeed, the beloved balcony scene virtually disappears in a rush of hurried emotional turns. And other scenes are read by the assembled actors more dutifully than meaningfully.

Hillary Wheelock is a spitfire as Romeo’s devoted pal Mercutio. But she seems to have visited this outdoor stage from another play entirely, sporting a hell-for-leather attitude that doesn’t quite jibe with the rest of the production.

One witty touch in this modern dress version is glowering Ryan Edlinger’s appearance as the Apothecary, er, drug dealer in a hoodie.

On this night, there were also issues with the sound amplification that made some of the early scenes hard to hear. But regardless of quibbles, CleveShakes offers free Shakespeare, an outdoor setting, and cool CSF t-shirts for cheap. That should be enough to recommend a visit.

Romeo and Juliet
Through August 3, produced by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival. Go to for details.

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