Helmer Joe Regalbuto has abridged the Bard’s “tale of woe” to a streamlined 95 minutes while casting the conflict of the Montagues and the Capulets as opposing blue state/red state political factions railing against one another in the contemporary community of Verona, Calif. The directorial conceit works, thanks to an able ensemble giving credence to the machinations of superficial but powerful movers-and-shakers pile driving their agendas over the bodies of two gentle souls. The resulting tragedy is made even more poignant by the tangible veracity exuded by Juliet (Gina Regalbuto) and her Romeo (Matty Ferraro).
Incorporating Shakespeare’s original language, the action does not get off to a promising start. The opening scene posturing of the lower echelon Montagues and Capulets (“Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?”) is rushed and undervolumed, as is the seething but barely audible intervention of the Prince (Steven Robert Wollenberg).
The proper pace and flow evolves during the early playful confab between a staunchly loyal Benvolio (Greg Coughlin) and his Rosaline-smitten cousin Romeo.
The production finds its true thematic power in the presence of Christian Lebano’s monumentally self-serving Lord Capulet who imperiously rules over the destinies of his family and his political heir apparent Paris (Jason Frost). Particularly engrossing is the tension-filled dynamic achieved by Lebano and D.J. Harner, as the much put-upon, emotionally subservient Lady Capulet.
The sheer power of the forces against them gives added resiliency to the improbable courtship of the two young lovers. With helmer Regalbuto cutting away much of the scenic foliage in their way, Gina Regalbuto and Ferraro are the embodiment of youthful impetuousness as Juliet and Romeo. They do credit to Shakespeare’s language, giving full meaning to every word and gesture. Most importantly, these two kids appear really hot for each other’s bodies.
As the youthful embodiment of the age-old Capulet/Montague feud, West Liang’s Tybalt and Shaun Baker’s Mercutio adequately communicate the contrary personalities of the two. Liang exudes the relentless militancy of the humorless Tybalt. Baker drenches himself in the persona of fun-loving Mercutio who takes on his fateful duel with Tybalt as just another lark.
The pivotal characters of Juliet’s nurse and the resourceful Friar Lawrence are given zesty portrayals by Livia Trevino and Joshua Wolf Coleman, respectively. Infusing her discourse with generous helpings of Spanish, Trevino gives a colorful, comical performance as the immigrant servant for a rich American family. Coleman offers a suave, physically fit cleric who seems to get as much fun out of bamboozling the Capulet/Montague households as he does helping the young lovers.
The all-purpose sets of Keith Mitchell serve well Regalbuto’s fast-paced staging. Particularly effective are the high end, privileged-class costumes of Sharell L. Martin.