The first summer show of Uncommon Theatre's young adult company is William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". The children of two powerful families, the Montagues and the Capulets, are so deeply enchanted with each other that they forget they live win an environment where their scrappy cousins would rather wrestle and brawl than recognize anything akin to love. "Romeo and Juliet" has been called a classic, and rightly so, for it is the most human of emotions to fall in love and on the other end of the spectrum, perhaps the most human of emotions to wish destruction and revenge on one's enemies. Keith Pinault, a senior at Hofstra University sets the show in current day Belfast, a city whose old wounds still keep it divided. He directs this show wonderfully with his 22 young performers. Keith wants to make the show more accessible to contemporary audiences and seeks to bring out the beauty and youth of the play.
Keith has his performers capture the essence of the play with current day themes of gang violence, reckless youth who are willing to commit suicide when things go wrong and torrid romantic love. He taught all his performers how to deliver their lines with a topnotch Irish brogue. I reviewed Keith as an actor when he played John Hinckley in "Assassins" in 2006. The first part starts off with a fight between the two families and includes some comic moments including the comic Groucho Marx mask of Mercutio at the party and his comic fight at first that turns deadly later on. The first half has the needed exposition for first time audiences but it is the end of Act 1 with the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt and Act 2 that will impress even seasoned Shakespearean theatre goers. Choreography is by Christina Kelly with original music by Ryan Cotter and fight choreography by Travis Youssef. The multitude of gorgeous costumes are by Laura Duell. Romeo and Juliet are splendidly played by Luke Doyle and Meg Lowey. I reviewed them at Uncommon last year in "Les Miserables" where they played Marius and Cosette. They make the necessary transition from carefree youthful lovers into dramatic adults beautifully. Luke has dark hair and Meg is a beautiful blonde. His scenes with her are sweet and tender while his scenes with Tybalt and Paris are frightening with their intensity. Luke's scenes with the Friar crackle with electricity when he is in despair about what to do after having killed Tybalt. Meg has comic moments with the nurse in the first act but she really shines in the second act when the tragic events envelop Juliet when she learns of her cousin Tybalt's death, Romeo's banishment and when she awakens to find her lover dead, it rips your heart out. Her argument scenes with her parents, the friar and the nurse are breathtaking, too. Their interactions with the other cast members are topnotch and they shine in these huge roles. Luke is headed to New York University while Meg is attending Northwestern. They both have a bright future in theater.
Two other terrific performers in this show are Shannon Ballou who plays the nurse and Francis Sheehan who plays Friar Lawrence. Their command of Shakespearean dialogue and delivery of their many lines is astounding. Shannon plays the talkative nurse who helps Juliet in her relationship with Romeo. Francis narrates some of the first act as the Friar. Some other powerful performers include Nick Chris as Mercutio who is Romeo's friend and confidant as well as the Prince's cousin, John Ball as the hot headed Tybalt who challenges Romeo to a dual after he crashes the Capulet's party, Graham Duff and Madeline Philips as Lord and Lady Capulet who are electrifying in their argument scene with Juliet, I last reviewed Graham in "Beauty and the Beast" and last reviewed Madeline in "A Pack of Lies",Kelly Whalen as Benvolio, Romeo's cousin, Kwaku Acheampong as the ill fated Paris and Nick Chris also plays the Prince of Verona. I also reviewed Nick as Leon Czolgosz and he is now a senior at Emerson College, shows off his commanding stage presence in both these roles and is the fight captain for the show. So for a trip back to the past, set in Ireland, be sure to catch this version of "Romeo and Juliet" to see some talented young performers at work.