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Romeo & Juliet (2016)

A lively and inventive condensation of the romantic classic featuring a spirited cast, foliage, rock music and visually staged with great physicality.

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Cary Donaldson and Rachel Mewbron as Romeo and Juliet (Photo credit: Matt Harrington)

Cary Donaldson and Rachel Mewbron as Romeo and Juliet (Photo credit: Matt Harrington)

[avatar user=”Darryl Reilly” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Darryl Reilly, Critic[/avatar]“Summer in The City” recorded by The Lovin’ Spoonful is played during a thrillingly choreographed fight scene that’s one of the early highlights of this lively and inventive condensation of Romeo & Juliet.  That nostalgic and energetic song is used as an aural motif throughout the production. 

Before the show starts there is the entrancing sight of scenic designer Brittany Vasta’s foliage laden unit set.  Potted plants and vines on the walls abound.  In the center is a circular garden area with more plants and with flowers.  Entrances and exits are made though white curtains on the sides.  Later, garden lights are strung across the stage and are seen on the vined walls.  It’s all a beautiful landscape for the action.  Drew Florida’s lighting design is also impressive with its illuminating brightness and dramatic darkness.

A cast of six spirited actors all perfectly portray multiple roles while wearing Lilah Fisher’s cool costumes. These are a well-selected array of street clothes consisting of jeans, untucked button down shirts, T-shirts and that have the Capulets wearing red flowers and the Montagues blue ones.

The Wheelhouse Theater Company presents this fast-paced and faithful version of the romantic classic. Co-directors Jeff Wise and Matt Harrington have inventively pared down William Shakespeare’s enduringly resonant tragic play to 90 minutes.  Mr. Wise and Mr. Harrington’s staging is visually compelling with a number of clever touches.  Mortal wounds are indicating with the unfortunates tossing red rose petals. Juliet delivers a speech as a stand-up comedy routine with recorded audience laughter heard.  That there’s no actual balcony doesn’t really matter as that famous scene is so finely blocked and performed.

During the Middle Ages in Verona, Italy, the teenagers Romeo and Juliet meet at a masked ball and fall in love.  That they are the off-spring of two warring families and that she is betrothed to another causes tragic complications.

Youthful and handsome Cary Donaldson is a grand Romeo and also an authoritative Prince of Verona.

Blonde and animated Rachel Mewbron as Juliet vividly conveys the necessary girlishness and boundless romanticism.  In addition, Ms. Mewbron forcefully plays a male role, Peter, a Capulet servant.

Brendan Titley makes a great impression as the jovial and benevolent Friar Laurence especially when playing a ukulele and is also a stern and paternalistic Lord Montague.

As Mercutio, the captivating Mairin Lee scores with the mirthful Queen Mab speech and with the fiery death condemnation, “A plague on both your houses.”  That Ms. Lee is so commanding in this male role makes her performance even richer.   Lee’s versatility is demonstrated as she makes for a regal and cold Lady Capulet and a wry Apothecary.

The yeoman work of the delightful Rebecca S’Manga Frank is on glorious display with her comically feisty Nurse wearing a flowing white shawl over her head, an imperious Lady Montague, and a stalwart Balthasar, Romeo’s servant.

With his expressive classical vocal abilities, limber physicality and sunny presence, David Kenner marvelously portrays several ensemble roles.

The integrity of Romeo & Juliet is never compromised by this streamlined and vigorous representation, and this American cast uniformly handles the verse with finesse.

Romeo & Juliet (through July 9, 2016)

The Wheelhouse Theater Company

The Davenport Theatre’s The Black Box Theatre

354 West 45th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

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