Theater review: Oklahoma Shakespeare stirs up potent 'Romeo & Juliet' in the Paseo Arts District
A version of this review appears in Thursday's Life & Style section of The Oklahoman. To read my preview of the Oklahoma Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet," click here.
Theater review: Oklahoma Shakespeare brews up potent 'Romeo & Juliet'
Oklahoma Shakespeare steeps the youthful ardor, feuding families and bawdy buddies of "Romeo & Juliet" into a potent season opener.
Although the venerable company last presented "Romeo & Juliet" in 2016 on the Myriad Gardens' Water Stage, Oklahoma Shakespeare this year is performing the familiar title for the first time in its Paseo Arts District space. Directed by Kris Kuss, William Shakespeare's enduring tale of star-crossed lovers has been pared down to a fast-paced, two-hour production that eliminates some extraneous characters and scenes.
Between the intimacy of the space and the condensation of the narrative, the new production distills all the heightened emotions into a heady theatrical brew, with raucous humor just managing to cut the melodrama to a reasonable dosage.
Capably taking on the role of narrator, Heath Jones Jr. makes for an authoritative Prince Escalus, who grows impatient with the turmoil boiling over in his fair Verona, Italy. The bitter rivalry between the influential Montague and Capulet clans has grown bloodthirsty, leading to violence in the streets.
Recent University of Oklahoma graduate Bryan Lewis and OU junior Nikki Mar create convincing chemistry as the ill-fated Romeo, the impetuous heir of Montague house, and Juliet, the clever scion of the Capulets.
Reprising the role of Friar Lawrence, company mainstay Hal Kohlman brings a reassuring presence as the confidant to both lovers, Michael Page impresses with his thunderous delivery as domineering Lord Capulet, and Marcus Popoff is appropriately hot-tempered as the troublemaking Tybalt.
Mariah Warren and Renee Krapff play well together as the imperious Lady Capulet and Juliet's daffy nurse, respectively.
Although it is arguably the best-known love story in Western literature, the story's ribald banter often takes center stage, thanks to scene-stealing performances by Allie Alexander as Romeo's quick-witted pal Mercutia (a gender-swapped version of Mercutio) and Kevin Cook as his good-natured cousin Benvolio.
Doing double duty as fight choreographer, Kuss' use of slow-motion action boosts the tension of the fight sequences. Lloyd Cracknell's costume designs and Rebekah Garrett's lighting scheme help to effectively set the stage, which, per usual for Oklahoma Shakespeare on Paseo, ranges all over the venue, keeping patrons' eyes ever tracking the star-crossed lovers, their friends and foes.
Performances continue through March 1. For tickets and information, go to www.oklahomashakespeare.com.