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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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