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Compass Rose Theater’s Romeo and Juliet

Fired by the kind of love that transcends reason and leaves you weak in the knees.

Romeo (Eli Pendry) leaves you weak in the knees as he woos Juliet (Sydney Maloney) in this youthful production of William Shakespeare’s classic.

From the thunderclap of their meeting to their untimely deaths, the power of Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other resonates throughout the play, and throughout history.
    So promises Compass Rose Theater in program notes to the youthful production of William Shakespeare’s classic. Yet the thunderclap failed to sound at the play’s pre-opening pay-what-you-can matinee. Blame it on a delayed opening due to technical problems, non-traditional casting or inexperience. Whatever the reason, there was no passion. Passionate debate and sword fights, yes, but passionate kisses, alas, no.
     Seventeen-year-old Ely Pendry, a Compass Rose alum dating back three years to Lost in Yonkers, is the best Romeo I have ever seen. He is fired by the kind of love that transcends reason and leaves you weak in the knees.
    Fourteen-year-old Sydney Maloney as the child-bride Juliet, however, does not yet have the depth of understanding to transcend emotions beyond coquetry, fear and tantrums. Similarly, this promising production feels immature. From the previous show’s recycled set to Friar John’s (Kyle Lynch) forgotten opening monologue and a conspicuous lack of equity players central to the theater’s mission, it left me unmoved. This despite many fine performances.
     In brief: Family tension is palpable from the opening clash in which the Prince of Verona (Brenna Horner) orders Romeo Montague’s father (Lynch) and Juliet Capulet’s father (Dan Reno) to rein in their feud. Romeo and his friends Benvolio (Shaina Higgins) and Mercutio (Emily Kaye Lynn) recklessly crash the Capulets’ party — and the lovers first meet.
    Juliet’s nurse (Renata Plecha), sympathetic in the extreme, arranges for the lovers’ secret marriage. Then Juliet’s kinsman Tybalt (Michael Robinson) kills Mercutio in a duel and is subsequently killed in like fashion by a reluctant Romeo who is banished from Verona, leaving Juliet inconsolable.
    Capulet and Lady Capulet (Maggie Robertson) arrange for her speedy betrothal to the haughty Count Paris (Matt Miller), an elder suitor whom she despises. Thus Friar Laurence (Thomas Hessenauer), who performed her wedding, arranges a fake death to buy time until Romeo can spirit her away from the crypt. Miscommunication results in their serial suicides.
     There is great action and acting in this show. The sword fighting is tight and treacherous. Lynn’s Mercutio sparkles with charisma and energy. Robinson’s Tybalt is a menacing hot head who commands attention. Plecha and Hessenauer bring the wisdom and compassion of age to their nurse and friar characters, and Reno demonstrates a mercurial temperament as Juliet’s father that well explains her fear of displeasing him.
    The period costumes are beautiful and tailored. Of the four women in pants roles — a reversal of the norm in Shakespeare’s time — only Lynn has the hairstyle to pull it off with aplomb, and the Prince looks strangely androgynous. Another disconcerting turn, which is probably accurate for the time and therefore a brilliant decision on the director’s part, is actors in their late 20s playing the parental roles. Do the math and be amazed. There is some music scattered throughout, but inconsistent in period and style.
     Despite the shortcomings, there is still much to enjoy in this blossoming production, not least Pendry and Lynn’s outstanding performances. As a professional show, it earns a B. But as a student project from an educational theater, it’s a real winner.

With Casey Baum as Romeo’s servant and Sydney Knoll as Juliet’s servant. Director: Lucinda Merry-Browne. Costumes: Julie Bays. Fight director: Casey Kaleba. Lights: Megan Lang. Sound: Kathleen Boidy. Set: Amy Kellet.
Playing thru April 20. Th 7pm, FSa 8pm (Sa April 12 & 19 also 2pm) Su 2pm at Compass Rose Theater, 49 Spa Rd., Annapolis. $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-980-6662; www.compassrosetheater.org.