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Review – Romeo & Juliet: Love is a Fire

Alan Corvaia (Friar Lawrence) and Annalisa Cochrane (Romeo). Photo by Radan Popović

 “I can’t remember seeing so much humor in a production of Romeo & Juliet ever before – which was a delight.”

A Review of Romeo & Juliet: Love is a Fire
Santa Monica Playhouse
By Catharine Dada, PhD.

This revisioned dynamic production Romeo & Juliet: Love is a Fire blends dance and a paired down, and sometimes cross-gendered cast to create Shakespearian magic on a blank stage. The verse is served well by an exceptional ensemble of actors, and under the direction of Neno Pervan – a native of Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina – the play moves along at an excellent pace. I can’t remember seeing so much humor in a production of Romeo & Juliet ever before – which was a delight.

We’re welcomed into the theatre with a sensual pairing of Romeo & Juliet as dancers already onstage – each costumed as one half of the whole that they represent together. Each knowing the other but not yet seeing each other … until they do.

The eclectic costumes in the show are more a mark of each character’s persona rather than fitting into any single identifiable time period. It was through the power of the performances that we knew exactly where we are at all times – even though the stage is kept bare. This is proof that when the performances are strong enough – we only need a good actor and a blank stage to bring great drama to life.

Stand out performances include Charlotte Williams Roberts – whose Prince Escalus owned not just the Playhouse Stage, but her strength seemed to expand to include several blocks of Santa Monica real estate as well. Robert’s clear command of the verse and her majestic presence were wonderful to behold.

The double casting of Tory Devon Smith – as both the mercurial Mercutio and the staid yet temperamental Capulet – was inspired. It was a joy to watch this actor shift his center of gravity (and gravitas) depending on the age and relative youthfulness of the character he was portraying. Appreciating an actor who could so skillfully join his physicality with the verse was a treat.

Tory Devon Smith – as both the mercurial Mercutio and the staid yet temperamental Capulet. Photo by Radan Popović

As Friar Laurence Alan Corvaia was able to bring abundant creativity to the role, occasionally breaking into bouts of fluent Spanish – and often for longer than expected! However, it was my particular delight (having forgotten most of my high school Spanish) that I could easily follow the gist of what he was saying – his clear voice navigating the waves and undulations of English just as easily as with his mother tongue. Corvaia’s Friar was well grounded, providing a strong contrast to the impetuosity of the youthful lovers – and rooted in the clear hope of what the power of true love could accomplish.

The cross-gender casting of Benvolio & Balthasar worked surprisingly well – with Madeline Shallan inhabiting her masculine characters with strength, grace and presence.

Gavin Mulcahy’s triple casting as Tybalt / Paris / Montague also stood out. His rich & gravelly voice lent itself well to three distinct characters.

Sika Lonner’s Nurse brought some more humor & warmth to the stage – which she balanced with her steady and clear Lady Montague.

Madison Hansen cut a graceful figure as Lady Capulet – furious with the outrageousness of her daughter’s disobedience – and yet herself like a frightened animal, trapped in an abusive marriage. Her gossamer fluid costume spoke of wealth – but her presence spoke of the plight of women throughout history, duty bound to their husbands – whatever his whims may be.

Annalisa Cochrane’s Romeo is beautifully grounded in a sexually-driven masculinity. A magnetic and charismatic presence, she navigates the changing territory from her love of Rosaline to that of Juliet with a deep understanding of the emotional depth that unbridled passion requires.

Juliet was played in the performance I saw by Chantel Adedeji – who balanced her impetuous innocence with doe-eyed wonder.

You might think you know how the story ends – and of course that doesn’t change – but there is one final delight – which involves the dancers Laura Ann Smyth as a Juliet and Chris Smith as a Romeo. Go and see it – you’ll think about the “what if’s” in this classic tale in a whole new light – and enjoy a tale of the enduring power of love and the human spirit brought to life by an exceptional ensemble along the way.

Running for two more weeks at the Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401
November 9, 16, 18th at 8pm, and Novmber 11, 12th at 2pm.
For tickets go to: Tickets for Romeo and Juliet – Love Is a Fire in Santa Monica from ShowClix

Dr. Catharine Dada received her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK. The focus of her research was on modern experiences of spirituality in Western theatre. She received her first degree in Theatre from LMU and subsequently trained as a classical actress at the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in England.

Catharine has acted in several productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company -performing at theaters at Stratford and at the Barbican in London, as well as playing leading roles in many repertory theaters throughout the UK. More info here and here.


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Transformation in the Asylum

Catharine Christof | October 11, 2016, 10:57 AM


2016-10-06-22-15-10Il Dolce Theater Company at Highways Performance Space presents: “The Colonel and The Birds.” Written by Hristo Boytchev. Directed by Neno Pervan.

For me – and I think for many of us – the theatre has to prove its worth by being something genuinely extraordinary. Something that means that if I do choose to leave the comfort of my home (sofa) that I’ll have a real opportunity to engage with something so vital and alive visceral that my opinions and beliefs are at risk of being changed. Last night, I wasn’t disappointed. Il Dolce’s production of The Colonel and the Birds – currently playing at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica was a piece of total theatre. It’s apparently one of the better-known plays of Bulgarian playwright, Hristo Boychev (I’d never heard of him – but I have every reason to believe the director, Neno Pervan).

I was present at something that was utterly engrossing not just because of the insanity of the story (and the story about insane people), but because of the completely immersive world the ensemble created. Their bodies were involved, their minds, the whole of their vulnerable beings were there – in front of me. The result was an experience that not only made me question my biases about madness (cultural? personal?), but also made me feel deep compassion for those that are the “left behind.” We’re all painfully aware of the horrors that war wreaks on civilians. But what about those who can’t take care of themselves? What happens to them? And what about those whose infirmities – for whatever reason – are in their minds?

Il Dolce Theatre Company’s production is not a dance piece – but it demands such total physicality from its actors that it became like a choreographed piece of insane reality. Getting the most out of the evening actually came down to a choice that I had to make. Because, at first I really didn’t want to engage with these insane creatures, stranded in the Balkans and stranded in their own minds. But the physicality of the actors, to a man and to a woman (and also to a man-woman), and the sheer virtuosity of their total commitment forced me to care about them. As the differences between the characters fell away scene by scene, so too did my own barriers to caring about them. And they – the most unlikely team of the war-damaged, war deranged and forgotten creatures –touched me.

The performances are worth mentioning for the virtuosity and the total immersion of the actors. It was truly an ensemble piece – led by the deeply charismatic Ian Salazar as the Colonel, encouraging transformation for the inmates with applied military precision. In no particular order, other performances worth mentioning include: Cameron Kauffman as Titch. Kaufman is utterly engaging, trapped in her own childlike and apparently innocent madness, but willing to play along with everyone else’s story. Lauren Elyse Buckley’s sexy nymph Meral required – and delivered – a sense of whole body engagement. Katie Robbins’ Mata Hari wields a potently aggressive sexy power – as if she’d been running the show for ages – that is, until the Colonel wakes up. Annalisa Cochrane’s Nina is trapped in her own Chekhovian nightmare. Cochrane does a wonderfully sensitive take on the ethereal loop-tape of an actress condemned to always deliver the same story and the same lines. Irish Giron’s Teresa is an extraordinary, clear and compassionate vision of transgender insanity. In Giron’s work, Teresa’s centre of gravity has shifted so high in his body that we get a visceral sense of the history that he/she might have been running from, and additional nuances further suggest why he/she would choose to “become” a nun. Alexa Vellanoweth’s Doctor, might be the sane one, but she too is trapped in her mind and in her own version of hellish reality. The Doctor’s honesty from early on in the play does make us wonder who she really was before the war. Vellanoweth’s honesty as a performer gives this an even richer framing, and her clear and direct addresses to the audience help frame the changing picture of reality.

When the Colonel’s vision for activity sets off a transformation in the asylum, ultimately the characters find more in common with each other than that which had previously separated them. That shared vision creates a bond – and a space that allows for us to share in some of that transformative journey too.

The Colonel and The Birds – Highways Performance Space, Santa Monica.
October 7th to October 30th. Friday and Saturday at 8pm & Sunday matinees at 3pm. For tickets & directions, go to





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